By Nabil Manzoor and Danny Van Roijen

In the past few months, COVID-19 has strained almost every sector of our society with a huge impact on global healthcare systems.

As the International Association for Trusted Blockchain Applications, INATBA has renewed its commitment to leverage the knowledge and expertise of its members to help slow the spread of the virus using the secure and immutable tracking capabilities of blockchain technology. INATBA is forming a rapid action team from across its membership base, which will make skills and expertise available to support multi stakeholder groups focused on COVID19.

Indeed, we strongly believe that blockchain can be used to address the specific challenges posed by COVID-19. A number of blockchain-based solutions can support organizations and states to advise citizens on the symptoms of infection, better manage medical data across organizations and countries, track drug donations and medical supplies and secure Electronic Health Records.

Blockchain to tackle misinformation

Guaranteeing reliable information to the public has been a major challenge during the outbreak. The fast escalation in the number of cases and the inconsistencies between the different online sources in official government, media and social network channels has made it difficult to keep track of the latest statistics.

Blockchain systems can help tackling misinformation thanks to their main characteristics: They are distributed and shared. Differently from centralised and decentralized networks, in distributed networks all the copies of the document are “constantly and automatically synchronised” keeping the same and equal form. This implies that the shared information cannot be manipulated or changed.

Blockchain to share data across organizations and countries

In public blockchains, every members’ information is accessible to all members of the network. This characteristic enables blockchain systems to reduce the gaps between the main stakeholders. Communication between hospitals, research centres, insurance companies and departments of health organizations becomes fundamental in such cases.

Interoperable blockchain solutions can help reducing disconnectedness between these traditional silos. Through blockchain, patients can take back control of their own data and manage consent through smart contracts; hospitals can store data with patients’ access rights; research centers can gain access to clear data and businesses can easily request access in exchange of incentives. Consequently, deploying automated solutions like smart contracts fosters compliance among different organizations, countries and jurisdictions.

Furthermore, given the cross-border character of such a crisis, as suggested by Neo’s epidemiological study, a public blockchain platform built on Decentralised Identifiers (DID) technology can help track people movements by securely collecting data on travel documents payment, gateways and medical records. This solution enables users to take preventive measures for the virus to spread and to detect those areas that need to be locked down.

Blockchain to secure donations and medical supply

The exceptional circumstances have caused a shortage of resources and medical supply in the most affected areas of the pandemic. Private and public bodies from different countries offered their support in the form of donations and medical supply. Such p2p transactions and distributions are happening in a decentralised way, which could be boosted by deploying blockchain to track donations, making them transparent and improving public confidence in the system.

Blockchain to secure health records

Security should be a priority in managing healthcare records. The high number of data and the different platforms and organizations involved can make the system more vulnerable. Moreover, the risk of including human error increases when translating the real-world information into digital information. Using Distributed Ledger Technologies applications for information sharing enables to achieve a good level of security in storing and transmitting medical data. These allow encrypted and non manipulable data flowing.

Moreover, Blockchain based Electronic Health Records are also deployed to serve as digital asset infrastructure for virtual and remote healthcare technologies. This allows to achieve better, secure, and precise ‘virtual care’.

Furthermore, adding services on top of the blockchain can further increase its level of security. This can consist of a layer used to handle the permission or to manage the key for accessing data, like for instance in the MyHealthMyDataproject. In addition to this, giving ownership of the data to the user can guarantee privacy issues and at the same time foster cybersecurity. Blockchain solutions can also include personal data accounts (PDAs), personal data storage clouds where data are aggregated from different sources (e.g. clinical data, personal drives, wearable devices) in a single user-owned account accessible from any personal device.

In addition, the Estonian model of KSI blockchain technology is an example of how any type of electronic activity can be independently verified using only formal mathematical methods, without using any trusted party or cryptographic key. The technology ensures the integrity of the medical records and provides for a system of access logs, which allows patients to both access to their records as well as control who has accessed their files. When the public registry computes a hash of the digital asset owned by the individual, this is sent to the blockchain and the user receives a proof of registration (KSI signature), that can be used to verify the assent’s integrity, the signing time and entity.

Blockchain is not the answer to every crisis. But as the global community works to identify ways to address this pandemic, and prevent future health crises, we urge our leaders to consider the many ways that blockchain can improve the systems and services that people need to live better, healthier lives.

Nabil Manzoor and Danny Van Roijen are co-chairs of INATBA’s Healthcare Working Group

For further information on INATBA’s COVID Rapid Action Team, please contact Marc Taverner, INATBA’s Executive Director

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