The Promise of New Digital Platforms
You’ve seen the headlines: in the last year, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become a staple of digital discourse, overtaken art auctions, and made significant inroads in brand marketing. When most of us think of NFTs, we think of Beeple, Bored Ape Yacht Club, Superplastic, or VeeFriends: digital art and collectibles, or membership in online groups. But there’s much, much more to NFT technology than that.
Because NFTs are certificates of data ownership, registered on the digital records of a blockchain, they have many applications beyond funky Twitter avatars and pieces of digital art collections. By signifying ownership of health data, NFT technology has the potential to transform the healthcare industry and put more power and information in the hands of patients. Let’s take a look at how.
Our information is valuable to healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations. This is especially true for those of us with unique or rare health conditions. Currently, the exchange of healthcare information happens between commercial or non-profit entities like hospitals, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. For the most part, patients like you and me don’t have much control over the value of our information in these exchanges — but NFT technology could change this.
By registering their individual healthcare data on an NFT blockchain, each patient could gain the ability to track data exchanges, with mechanisms built in to stop certain exchanges or even charge for data access. These abilities will only become more important in the future, as healthcare organizations continue to invest in innovative ways to tailor experiences to patients by using their data. By certifying ownership of their information through NFT technology, patients will have more control over the ways their data can be used.
NFT-certified ownership of patient data has many potential applications for operational processes in healthcare, as well as in healthcare and pharmaceutical marketing.
It may seem like NFT-ified healthcare data is a fairly new idea, and you might guess that this technology is a long way from being implemented. But the truth is, it’s already in progress, and a handful of organizations have made substantial headway in using blockchain technology to manage blood donations.
In the UK, an organization called BloodChain, billed as “the first open social blood bank,” allows people to register their blood type into a secure blockchain-based blood bank that uses AI to determine demand and deliver blood to hospitals. A similar project is underway in Canada, spearheaded by E&Y in collaboration with Canadian Blood Services. In a world where people need donated blood as often as every two seconds, NFT technology can only make blood donation more efficient and secure.
In pharmaceutical manufacturing, NFT technology could make it easier to certify drug authenticity and track distribution. Drugs without a pharmaceutical manufacturer’s unique token attached to them could be quickly identified as inauthentic and discarded before ever reaching patients. Similarly, any drugs recalled from the market could be tagged with a unique token, making it easier to digitally organize their exit from pharmacy shelves.
For individual patients, prescription orders could be linked to NFTs that securely verify the identity of the patient and connect them to the original prescribing healthcare provider. This method would add an extra layer of security to the prescription process, further safeguarding against forgeries and clerical errors.
With clearer ownership over their own healthcare data and greater agency concerning its use, it stands to reason that certain patients could become more active partners in healthcare marketing. By licensing their healthcare NFTs for use in marketing, patients — particularly those with rare or chronic conditions — could partner with organizations to reach other members of their health communities, while benefiting financially from the data exchange.
When selling their data to healthcare organizations for use in marketing (or any other use), patients could opt for conditions in their contracts that give them a voice in how their data can be used once sold, allowing them to become active participants in the marketing process. These patients’ unique insights into living with their conditions could help marketers create particularly compelling messaging and channel strategies that will resonate with audiences with the same conditions.
Patients’ certified ownership of data through NFTs will fundamentally change their relationship with healthcare organizations in the physical world — and as healthcare enters the metaverse, It’s also worth considering the opportunities that patient data NFTs present in the digital world. Linked to each user’s unique profile on metaverse platforms, NFT technology could be the key to security and identity verification in metaverse-based telemedicine and virtual hospitals.
The story of NFTs and blockchain technology is still being written, and it’s difficult to say at this point whether NFTs are truly the future of art and social engagement. Players of Silks and collectors of Moonbirds may one day be seen as pioneers, or as punchlines. Right now, it’s simply too soon to tell.
But beyond the hype, it’s important to remember that there are serious applications for NFT and blockchain technology — applications that could improve peoples’ health, and even save lives. In myriad ways across the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, this secure technology holds real promise. We’re excited to see it blossom.