NFT in healthcare – is it even possible? Did you think that NFTs were limited only to the art and gaming industry? Read this blog to know how they can revolutionise the future of the healthcare industry, what’s the take of medical ethicists on this, and more.
Imagine a scenario where you visit a clinic to seek relief from a headache that the usual OTC drug is failing to cure. Wouldn’t big pharma benefit from this information and be able to design a stronger pill to cure headache? Yes, they would, but in this, we as patients lack control over our data. What if a novel technological approach lets you become the master of your patient data? Wouldn’t you prefer that rather?
Do you know that non-fungible tokens can make this happen?
NFTs are an emerging technological trend that have gained prominence mostly in the field of art, digital content, music, and online gaming items so far. But did you know that NFTs could play a pivotal role in different areas of the healthcare industry too.
That being said are you aware that the healthcare industry deals with a humungous amount of patient data every day? About 1.2 billion clinical documents are generated in the U.S. alone.
So, NFTs offer a novel way of managing patient data and other things in different spheres of the healthcare industry. Let’s explore more about eight new application opportunities for NFT in healthcare below.
Features of healthcare NFTs making them useful for this sector
NFTs have evolved from smart contracts and most of its features are derived from the blockchain to which they belong. Before we take a look at the applications of NFT in healthcare, let’s take a look at its unique characteristics.
- Data uniqueness – NFT tokens are are unique cryptocurrency assets. It means that they can’t be modified, deleted, or replicated.
- Data ownership – Each unique NFT is owned by the one who mints it. The ownership information is permanently retained on the blockchain and cannot be fabricated in any way.
- Verifiability – Since all transaction details are stored on the blockchain, therefore, the minting, transferring, and burning of NFTs are transparent and verifiable.
- Tokenisation and Monetisation –NFTs provide a provision to transform physical assets into digital assets; thereby, facilitating its trading and monetization.
- Extensibility – This feature enables a combination of two or more NFTs to give rise to another completely new and unique NFT token.
8 novel applications of NFT in healthcare
Non-fungible tokens can have numerous applications in the field of medical science and the pharma industry. Let’s take a look at eight new applications of NFTs in this compilation.
Patient data NFTs
With the coming of smart wearables and numerous fitness apps, our health data is lying everywhere. Also, whenever, we visit hospitals, clinics, or pathological labs, our health data is electronically collected and stored on their local servers. As AI and big data are expanding at an unprecedented rate; drug manufacturers, researchers, and genome sequencing companies are heavily relying upon patient health information.
However, this kind of PHI (Protected Health Information) is often subject to exchange and trade without the concerned patient’s consent or even knowledge.
Thus, a team of scholars led by bioethicists at Baylor College of Medicine recently proposed linking sensitive patient data to NFTs. The advantage of doing this is that smart contracts would allow patients to gain digital ownership over their health data. Also, it would allow them to track their data with the help of a unique identification code. Further, they can link their de-identified data to other platforms and sell it to third parties as per their terms and conditions.
Aimedis is a one-of-a-kind, blockchain-based healthcare platform, founded in 2017. They were the first to introduce a medical data marketplace in 2021. They also created the first NFTs containing the electrocardiogram data of cardiac patients.
Genomics data management
The field of genomics is expanding exponentially and it is estimated that 2 billion human genomes can be sequenced by 2025. However, this field too involves dealing with an individual’s data and is subjected to exploitation. Since genomic data exists for a longer span of time, patients having ownership over it is crucial.
Thus, this is another application opportunity for NFT in healthcare. An article by Ahmad Musamih, et al, in the IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, proposes the conversion of an individual’s genomic data into an NFT token. It can ensure sole ownership over the NFT by an individual, thereby eliminating the scope of fabrication. It would also enable transaction tracking, further ensuring verifiability and data provenance. Additionally, individuals can also gain a scope to monetise their genomic data.
Supply chain management
When the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak in 2020, the global healthcare supply chain failed catastrophically to meet the demand for basic healthcare materials, medical equipment, PPEs, ICUs, ventilators, and even hand-sanitisers. Such a massive crash points toward an ineffectual and opaque system.
This not only threatens patient safety but also points toward a big loophole for the introduction of counterfeit medical equipment and medications. According to a report by Statista, the global counterfeit drug market is valued at $200 billion.
Furthermore, the lack of transparency and traceability makes it even easier for the people involved in the supply chain escape accountability.
Therefore, this provides a remarkable opportunity of using NFTs in healthcare. Here’s how it will benefit:
According to WHO, there are about 118.54 million blood donations collected globally. But do you ever get to know the journey of the donated blood from the camp to the end recipient?
This would be achievable with non-fungible tokens and would be an exemplary use of NFTs in healthcare. Blood donation organisations can mark each donor’s blood with a specific NFT token. This would help them track the blood on the blockchain from the camp to the blood bank or hospital. Further, it can even be traced to its end recipient.
Alternatively, blood donation organisations can register the donated blood into a digital blood bank. This would facilitate people in need of blood transfusions to easily search for their required blood type. It would also ensure faster delivery of blood and help save people’s lives.
Intellectual property theft is common in the form of patent thefts. This is due to the reason that the process of patent registration involves publishing the patent details and designs publicly.
A research paper published by Samer Barakat, et al, proposes the use of non-fungible tokens for protecting patents. Organizations and individuals can immensely benefit from an NFT blockchain patent protection system. Healthcare NFTs and pharma NFTs can make a significant impact on the patent laws with the minting of patents as NFTs.
For each patent, if the system generates a non-fungible token and deposits the patent hash on the Ethereum blockchain network with a digital timestamp, it will be easy to verify who filed for the patent first.
Creation of digital twins
A digital twin may be defined as the virtual copy of a physical asset. Digital twins often provide useful insights into how to optimise a tangible asset. NFTs can help produce digital twins of medical assets by tokenising them. The digital twin can record all activities of the medical assets on the blockchain and prove the authenticity and immutability of its data.
One use case could be employing a digital twin to model a patient’s organs via smart wearables and plantable devices that the patient uses. The digital twin can help customise treatment plans and also curate a medicine intake chart for the patients.
Healthcare providers can utilize the digital twin to run customised simulations to figure out the most appropriate treatment plan for each patient instead of depending on the generalised trial results. As the patient will own the digital twin, they can ultimately have sole ownership over the data.
Clinical trial management
Conducting effective clinical trials faces two major obstacles, one is lack of transparency and another is the lengthy, tedious, old-school method of documentation.
How could one mitigate these challenges?
The answer lies in employing pharma NFTs. Converting each participant’s trial process into an NFT token can maintain a record of their consent on the blockchain and prevent manipulation. Plus, NFTs can present an opportunity to incentivize trials, thereby encouraging their consensual participation. Ultimately, it can save a lot of time and money.
Creation of decentralised knowledge base
Another research paper by Kopp A.M., et al, proposes an innovative solution to preserve the intellectual property of an organisation such as their practical solutions, models, guidelines, SOPs, and blueprints. This would not only facilitate knowledge sharing within and outside an organisation conveniently but also help retain ownership over it, thereby facilitating its authentic usage.
The digital assets of any organisation could be tokenised and stored on a decentralised database based on a blockchain network. This would ensure that the digital assets are fully traceable.
Challenges of using NFT in healthcare
Since NFTs in healthcare are in its nascent stages; therefore, it is still not perfect. The challenges associated with the incorporation of NFTs in the medical field and its possible solutions are enumerated below.
Vulnerabilities of smart contracts
The Problem: Smart contracts are susceptible to exploitation due to conflict between two smart contracts if they are not coded properly. This is because the NFT is based on smart contracts and the marketplace where it is traded also has its own smart contract.
Possible Solution: Use of oracle networks.
Seamless integration with existing legacy systems
The Problem: To maximise the utility of healthcare NFTs, they need to be designed robustly to ensure interoperability across different blockchains, IoMT, and other systems.
Possible Solution: Requires extensive testing and auditing.
Humongous storage requirements
The Problem: NFTs can congest the blockchains due to the pressure of the humongous amount of data stored on them. This can in turn increase the time of operation and consequently raise the transaction fees.
Possible Solution: Requires a specialised decentralised storage system.
The Problem: Blockchains already face the issue of scalability. Since smart contracts are hosted on the blockchain, they face the same challenge.
Possible Solution: Employing on-chain and off-chain scaling solutions.
The Problem: HIPAA and GDPR guidelines prevent storing and sharing of personal information of patients. NFTs must remain compliant with HIPAA and GDPR guidelines.
Possible Solution: Irreversible encryption.
Absence of regulatory framework
The Problem: Blockchains are decentralised, making it difficult for regulatory authorities to impose regulations on its applications.
Possible Solution: Implementation of regulatory standards.
The Problem: Gas fees are charged for performing transactions and updating the blockchain. Gas fees have to be paid in the native currency of the blockchain on which the NFT is hosted. Gas fees can’t be predicted as it is influenced by the congestion on the blockchain.
Possible Solution: Using private blockchains.
Dearth of NFT technical experts
The Problem: The healthcare industry lacks NFT technical experts and blockchain developers.
Possible Solution: Conducting workshops, knowledge-transfer sessions, and implementation of pilot programs.
The Bottom Line
NFTs are a kind of technology that is helping the real world transcend into the virtual world. Besides being endorsed by Hollywood celebrities, they are also witnessing a surge in demand from commoners of late. A survey conducted in 2021 indicated that about 20% of adults in the US are inclined towards obtaining, investing, or trading NFTs.
The above-mentioned groundbreaking eight applications of NFTs in healthcare can transform the way the patient-care industry was functioning so far. Even medical ethicists favour the inclusion of NFTs in the healthcare sector.
Stay tuned for interesting updates.
FAQs – NFT in healthcare
What does NFT stand for?
NFT is an abbreviation for non-fungible tokens. Derived from smart contracts, these are digital certificates on the blockchain with unique identification codes and metadata.
How can NFTs transform health exchange information?
NFTs can empower patients to decide how their health data is handled by the health information exchange. This is because NFTs are on the blockchain making the transactions transparent and tamper-proof. Thus, patients can monetize their data easily with the help of NFTs and have more control over their data and also share it with their consent.
What are the top NFT tokens?
There are already a huge number of NFT tokens available in the digital assets market; however, there are a few top NFT tokens of all time like CryptoPunks, Bored Ape Yacht Club, and more.
Can NFTs be used in healthcare?
Yes, NFTs are an emerging concept in the healthcare industry. Even medical ethicists believe that NFTs can be useful for patients. To know more about the applications of NFTs in the medical field, read this blog post.