Blockchain can help you control, protect and share your health data — helping you and others live healthier, longer lives
Exciting advances in precision medicine over the past decade should mean you and your family are now receiving advanced levels of healthcare and disease prevention based on your genetic makeup.
Researchers and health professionals across the world should be enjoying access to a vast resource of genomic sequencing data and health records — helping them discover cures and treatments for every type of disease.
However, the reality is far different.
An ocean of data about your health and the health of others is likely to be spread across many databases. You probably have little ability to view or update this data, let alone control who has access to it.
As for genomic data, only a small percentage of people have had theirs sequenced — largely because there isn’t a secure place to hold and leverage it.
Time to take control
This is a tragedy. You should have the opportunity to own your health and DNA data, and to maintain total control over it. You should have up-to-date information about the diseases you are predisposed to. Every few months, your data dashboard should be updated to inform you of the latest insights scientists have about your DNA.
If you know you’re genetically predisposed to osteoporosis, you should be able to proactively take steps to avoid its onset. If you’re aware there is a high chance of being afflicted by a certain type of cancer, you should be regularly tested to ensure you can catch it early.
Health apps and silos
There are many ongoing initiatives across the globe aiming to facilitate the storage and sharing of genomic data, and thereby enable the progress of precision medicine. Health apps based on genomic and other health data are good examples. But they tend to be competing against each other and creating even more data silos.
Meanwhile, a few large businesses hold the monopoly on most genomic data, and make large profits from selling it to third parties, usually without sharing the earnings with the data donor.
This stifles research and innovation and prevents medicine and healthcare moving forward at the pace it should.
You and your doctors are being denied vital knowledge about your health, and brilliant scientists are being denied access to genomic datasets that could help them gather potentially transformational information that could lead to the eradication of diseases.
Not only is your future health being compromised by the current system, but your health data is being left vulnerable too. In the wake of major data breaches like those at Yahoo! and Equifax, it’s hard to trust any organisation with sensitive data stored on cloud databases or local servers.
The release on the internet of your data records could have huge implications on your personal relationships, your future employment, your health insurance and your general wellbeing. Cyber criminals know this, so medical data will increasingly be targeted to leverage money from health organisations and patients themselves.
It’s no wonder few people are largely unwilling to map out their DNA and risk this data being spread across the internet.
A blockchain solution
But blockchain-based technology could be the solution everyone is waiting for.
Its distributed ledger technology removes the vulnerabilities associated with cloud databases. This means it would be safe to store even the most sensitive DNA and healthcare data on the blockchain, without fear of it being stolen or misused in a cyber attack.
A centralized health data hub built on the blockchain could let you maintain full ownership of this data, allowing you to share it with health professionals.
Let’s imagine you’re visiting a specialist doctor for a consultation and tests. She would just need a laptop or mobile device to access your health data in the ecosystem — using a private key (in other words a temporary password) supplied by you. At no time would the data be stored in her own computer or cloud database. And she would only have access to your data while you were under her care.
If you wanted to share the data with a research firm, you could give them access to your data in anonymised form for a certain period, and perhaps receive a payment in exchange.
A new ecosystem
Healthcare and wellness providers such as clinics, pharmaceuticals, research organizations, governments, patient-support groups and insurance companies could join an ecosystem built around this blockchain technology.
They would no longer have to compete with each other to gather data. It would be there for them all to use — for example, to boost clinical trials or facilitate drug research and development. This data could be easily sharable and interoperable across technological, geographic, jurisdictional, and professional boundaries.
Such a system could offer patients access to applications that leverage their data and enhance their wellbeing and health — for example, nutritional and fitness advice, treatment plans, genealogy, disease predisposition, and lifestyle management.
Looking into the future, as more personalized biological information becomes available, services could be offered that are based not only on genomic data, but also other health, biological, and environmental information, facilitating new insights into disease processes.
This is an exciting time in healthcare. Soon, you’ll have the power to leverage your DNA and health data to live a longer, healthier life, while helping billions of others on the planet.
All the technologies are in place. The world just needs a suitable health data platform.
About the Author
Dr Axel Schumacher who has over 20 years’ experience in the field of genetics; and is the Chief Scientific Officer of blockchain-enabled genomic data-hub startup Shivom. Shivom’s platform aims to be the largest genomic & healthcare data-hub on the planet, allowing the world’s population to have their genome sequenced and securely stored with the help of blockchain technology.