What happened at the European Union Blockchain Observatory & Forum workshop on Use cases in healthcare in Frankfurt on 4 September, 2019

There are few types of information more important to our wellbeing, or more private, than the information about our health. Unfortunately, there are many serious problems with the way healthcare data gets handled today. 

Patients (and, for that matter, well people) generally have little or no control over their personal health records, which tend to be stored in the various databases of the doctors, hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers that they visit. For an individual, it can be a challenge to get an overview of all this information, as well as to protect, or even have a say, in how this data is used. The situation is no better for the healthcare industry. There is a great deal of potentially important data locked up in these innumerable, often incompatible, data silos. The potential for savings, as well as for medical breakthroughs, if this information could be accessed in an efficient but also privacy-preserving way are vast. Yet the challenges in getting there are great.

Blockchain technology, which can facilitate the secure sharing of trusted data among large, heterogeneous groups, could be a very useful tool in this regard. How exactly, and what could potentially be accomplished, was the subject of the eleventh workshop of the EU Blockchain Observatory & Forum, which was held in Frankfurt on 4 September. 

Below are some of the highlights from the discussion.

The EU wants to transform healthcare in Europe

The day opened with a presentation from the European Commission on how the EU is looking to transform healthcare in Europe in order to improve services, empower citizens when using digital health services, facilitate person-centred care, give citizens better access to their health data everywhere in the EU, and connect and share health data for research, faster diagnosis and better health outcomes. Under H2020 eHealth Cybersecurity Research and Innovation effort, there was a call for proposals in 2018 for improving cybersecurity in hospitals. While the call did not mention blockchain, among the 40 submitted proposals, 15 had blockchain in them, and among the 7 selected for funding, 5 contained a blockchain component.

The State of Blockchain in Healthcare and Life Sciences

This was followed by a presentation on the state of blockchain in healthcare and the life sciences. Participants were told that we should not think of blockchain in isolation but rather in the context of a number of rapidly maturing technology innovations that affect healthcare, including AI, 3D printing, biotech/genomics and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). At the same time, patient self-sovereignty is on the rise as business models based on the monetising of anonymised or pseudonymised patient data without remuneration to the original data subject are become increasingly untenable. Thanks to blockchain technology and cryptoeconomics, we find ourselves for the first time with a chance to apply behavioral economics and game theory to make things work better. Identity will be key for these kinds of innovations in healthcare and life sciences.

Panel discussion – Blockchain in Clinical Trials

It is difficult for pharma companies to get the right sites for a clinical trials. More data convergence allowing stakeholders to access and derive insights from larger data sets would be desirable. It is not necessary to do this on a blockchain, but blockchain can be a very good tool in terms of ensuring data integrity and transparency, and perhaps even enabling a global database of some sort. There is also a move to drive clinical trials from traditional settings to more remote ones. Blockchain has no part here yet. But when you get to fully remote clinical trials blockchain becomes interesting. It can also make a lot of sense to create “pre-competitive” consortia of providers and other stakeholders to collect and share data, but you need strict control over how that data is handled. Here too blockchain can come into play: you can make rules for this with smart contracts and potentially save billions. 

Presentation – Convergence of Blockchain and Secure Computing for Healthcare solutions. 

Markets for personal health data handled in privacy-preserving ways are one of the most important and promising use cases for blockchain at the moment. In the future, we will be able to construct markets in which patients who go to a hospital can gain access to and ownership of the health-related data about them that is generated during their visit. Then we can provide the patient the option to share that data if he or she wants, and do so in a  privacy-preserving way. Since the data is also valuable, the patient could have options to monetise it, which in turn could serve as an incentive to share. This can be accomplished with the convergence of a number of emerging technologies, including: blockchain, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), and advances in genomics and biotech. The most promising developments in this area of “secure computing” include: homomorphic encryption, secure multiparty computation, the use of trusted execution environments (TEEs) on microprocessors, and federated computing/learning.

Panel discussion – Patient-Mediated Data Exchange, Aggregation, Curation, and Monetization. 

There are many barriers in the way of healthcare exchanges today, including user experience, the availability of data and interoperability. To function, there also need to be sufficient incentives for sick and well people to share and allow the aggregation of their data, as well as a legal framework. Blockchain can be useful as a proof of provenance and ‘truth’ of data (by creating audit trails and immutable data entries), managing consent, but also as a means to allow for the trustful curation of data. By facilitating patient-mediated data exchange, blockchain can also support the monetisation of data by individuals, and its re-use by the healthcare and research communities. This could in turn generate value to help keep overall healthcare costs down.

Workshop details

A detailed report on this workshop, including links to the presentations and the video of the day, will be published on our Reports page. Be sure to check back if you are interested in this topic! 

  • The Workshop took place in Frankfurt on 4 September, 2019
  • There were 135 people registered for the event 
  • Speakers and panelists included:
    • Chiara Mazzone (DG CNECT)
    • Pierre Marro (DG CNECT)
    • Reza Razavi (DG CNECT)
    • Ludovic Courcelas (EU Observatory/ConsenSys)
    • Heather Leigh Flannery (ConsenSys)
    • Dr. Olaf Wilhelm (Therawis Pharma/diagnostics);
    • Manuela Schöner (Frankfurt School)
    • Dr. Axel Schumacher (Project Shivom)
    • Jonathan Passerat-Palmbach, PhD (ConsenSys, Imperial College)
    • Alexis Normand (Embleema)
    • Dr. Eberhard Scheuer (HIT Foundation)
    • Mirko De Maldè (My Health My Data, Lynkeus)