As Americans continue to struggle with the rising cost of health care, and service providers grapple with heightened privacy and data-management concerns, could a little blockchain be the cure for what ails us?
The city of Austin, Texas, certainly thinks so. And it’s bringing public and private entities to the table to find blockchain-based solutions to health-care-related problems.
On Monday, the Austin Blockchain Collective announced the formation of its Healthcare Working Group. The group aims to cultivate and promote the many ways in which blockchains can be used to improve the provision of health care in both the local Austin community and across the country.
From the outset, the Collective’s Healthcare Working Group will count with the support and participation of Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin and a half dozen Austin-based blockchain startups, including the crosschain solutions company Factom.
“The health-care space is one of fundamental importance, and delivery of improved and affordable health outcomes is of importance to everyone,” said Pete Harris, executive director of the Austin Blockchain Collective. “It's also hugely complex, and a good part of that complexity is technical,” he said.
And this where blockchain tech can help.
“For example, [the] integration of health-related data and how it is leveraged is likely to result in significant improvements to health-care applications,” said Harris. “We see blockchain’s role in sharing data, securing data, and in allowing patients to be in control of their own data as a focus that blockchain technology is well suited for.”
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Harris said the Healthcare Working Group’s founding members are “very focused on data integration and ownership aspects of healthcare”—an area which Dell Medical School has long since spotlighted as increasingly important.
Both the Austin Blockchain Collective and Dell Medical School previously assisted the City of Austin in developing and prototyping a blockchain-based, data-management platform for Austin’s homeless population called MyPass. The MyPass initiative was designed to provide homeless individuals with ownership and control of their own medical and other private records as a way to more easily access services.
Anjum Khurshid, chief of data integration and assistant professor at Dell Med, told Decrypt last October that the technology behind MyPass was always intended to eventually benefit the broader population. After all, “fragmentation of data” is a problem at affects everyone across the entire health-care system, he said.
It appears that the Austin Blockchain Collective’s Healthcare Working Group presents the next phase in that same vision to use blockchain as a way to tackle the various health-care data issues previously identified by Khurshid, who will co-chair the group.
The expectation is that the working group will allow “researchers and clinicians at the University to discuss technical, policy, social, and ethical issues with industry partners for real world applications of blockchain technology in healthcare,” Khurshid said in a statement. “We would like to see the University of Texas and the City of Austin become a hub of research and innovation in this field.”
The group plans to hold regular meetings throughout the rest of 2019, said Harris, continuing the many informal talks the Collective has held with Dell Med on the issue over the last year. In addition to publishing its findings, the group plans to hold free and public events that invite members of the community to collaborate, the first of which is scheduled for August 19.
A community-driven movement to find ways to use new technology to solve old problems? It could be just what the doctor ordered.