German Ramirez – SFTA Subject Matter Expert, Co-Founder of The Relevance House

Zurich, Tuesday, September 30th, 2019

As blockchain technology expands beyond its cryptocurrency roots, it turns out that the properties that make it perfect for securely storing and transacting bitcoin are also ideal for managing confidential information such as medical records.
Naturally, medical records are considered highly sensitive. Currently, this information is siloed on numerous incompatible systems across hospitals, clinics and insurance companies.

The client/server nature of healthcare record storage means large amounts of patient data is located on central databases which is an easy target for hackers. Run by human IT technicians, access to medical records is also subject to unpredictable human nature; information may be leaked via social engineering, human error, coercion or bribery. And this can have serious repercussions, for example for individuals seeking insurance, employment or even running for public office. And keeping records synchronised across different systems that don’t talk to each other is also a challenge.

The beauty of blockchain- separating data and identity

One of the core principles of blockchain data storage is the separation of data and identity. Just like in the bitcoin network, encrypted medical records stored on a blockchain would not include a patient´s personal information as only anonymized data is stored. In fact, only the patient has ownership and control of their identity and is able to link to and decrypt their medical records based on a personally owned digital private key. The use of such public/private key cryptography means each patient (or an appointed proxy) has exclusive access to their health records, as well as the authority to grant full, partial or anonymous access to third parties such as doctors, hospitals, insurance companies or medical researchers. And cracking this key is impossible. It would take the most powerful computers millions of years. But what about all the infamous theft of bitcoin from online exchanges you may ask. Well, that was simply the result of people willingly relinquishing custody of their private keys to the exchange. Not a good idea.

A shared, secure, distributed healthcare database

Blockchain also solves the problem of vulnerable, centralised data storage. Instead of a single instance of records on a centralised server, anonymous data is replicated and distributed throughout a network of server nodes, embedded in layers of connected, encrypted data that is virtually impossible to alter as every single node would have to be simultaneously attacked, and even then no personal data could be stolen as it’s not there to begin with. Similar to the bitcoin network, records can be made accessible to anyone with an internet connection, solving the problem of multiple siloed records stored on different systems as well as synchronisation of the records.

Too good to be true?

Is this all just a technological fantasy? To answer that lets look at some real-world examples of how Blockchain is being used for precisely these purposes.

  • Atlanta-based Patientory aims to revolutionize the way doctors and patients interact and gain access to information, cutting out unnecessary layers and processes. The main features of their platform include 24/7 permissioned access to health data, immutable blockchain data storage, and health information storage that is compliant with region-specific regulatory guidelines.
  • Slovenia-based Iryo has created the first open healthcare platform that enables the secure and private exchange of anonymous medical data for researchers. The platform gives doctors, pharmaceutical companies and researchers access to a vast repository of anonymized, encrypted health records to aid them in the development of treatments and cures. It implements blockchain permissioned control for patient record access and offers tokens to incentivize end-users to consent to provide their anonymized records.
  • Palo-Alto based has created a system that gives individuals secure access to their complete health data hosted on an encrypted, decentralized blockchain ledger. Data is only accessible to the individual who then has the power to selectively provide access to others. As data from an increasingly biodiverse population accumulates, enables researchers to conduct studies more quickly, inexpensively, and accurately than ever before.

Marketing in the age of blockchain disruption

Pioneers like these still face unique challenges when marketing their solution to different stakeholders. Going up against established systems with a new, often misunderstood technology means communication needs to focus on simplification of what the technology can deliver and not on the technology itself. Key value propositions need to be tailored to each target audience, for example:

  • Doctors who have a personal relationship with their patients. They need to be convinced of the bullet-proof nature of any new information storage technology. The focus should be on simplicity, reliability, security and cost efficiency. As doctors are the gatekeepers to the network where patient data is recorded, they need to be convinced about the security and confidentiality aspects of blockchain based storage via whitepapers, case studies, positive articles in medical journals, and third-party expert endorsements. Social media channels should also be leveraged to amplify the security and benefits, and diverse Twitter and LinkedIn channels already exist that focus on innovation in the professional medical devices industry.
  • Hospitals that want complete, up-to-date and fast access to patient records, especially important when dealing with time-critical emergencies. In addition to being convinced of a blockchain system’s speed, accuracy, security and immutability, hospitals data systems will have multiple interfaces to external parties: ambulances, fire and rescue teams, private doctors, insurers and other hospitals. They will need to be convinced of the security of data-in-transit; the security of the encrypted data as it travels over wired and wireless networks. Whitepapers, case studies, expert endorsements, supporting documentation in reputable medical journals, press releases and conferences are key. Social media channels serving the hospital industry should also targeted, e.g. Hospital Innovations, and Med Tech Innovation. Large potential users of new medical technology can be directly targeted by commentary via LinkedIn, for example Inova, a large American hospital network with over 18 thousand members has their own LinkedIn page with over 41 thousand followers.
  • Emergency services need fast and secure access to patient data from any location. They will need to be sold on portable wireless data access terminals that can instantly access medical records reliably and securely. Speed of data access, as well as being able to access them in remote locations are a major selling point. Test results and field trials that demonstrate these benefits will be crucial for adoption. Social media channels with large numbers of followers exist that address this audience such as Emergency Medical Services and The Emergency Medical Services Network on LinkedIn. Important exhibitions to achieve targeted exposure in this sector include the annual Emergency Medical Services show and London’s Emergency Services Exhibition.

These are just three examples of stakeholders having different priorities and pain-points when it comes to the secure storage and retrieval of medical records. Other players that need to be targeted and convinced with tailored messages include:

  • Government regulators who demand approved solutions that comply with standards such as the right of patients to delete records from storage.
  • Insurers who want fast and automated access to up-to-date, complete and anonymized health records with a guarantee that the data is uncorrupted.
  • Patients who have the most to gain as well as the most to lose when it comes to the secure management of their sensitive medical records.
  • Investors who want to know the market figures for blockchain based medical record systems: the total available market, serviceable available market, projected market growth, system price and profit margins over time, etc. They will also want a clear and easy way to understand the set of benefits; what are the current problems with traditional systems and how blockchain based storage will solve them.

Launching a marketing campaign that reaches all these groups with the right messages is not that simple. It requires a team of experts who truly understand marketing, PR, events and social media in the blockchain sector and who can guide a company through the process of building a reliable and respected image and brand. So, yes it takes some thought and a lot of work, but the rewards could be significant for all concerned.

THE RELEVANCE HOUSE is a full-service marketing consulting agency for firms in the blockchain and emerging technology sector. We don’t operate like a regular agency. Think of us more as an outsourced marketing department. We become part of the team. We focus on helping technology start-ups and projects to build and communicate a relevant brand and story. Why? Because only relevance has impact.