Non-Fungible Tokens in Healthcare: Inevitable, Promising, But Unclear As Yet

You are currently viewing Non-Fungible Tokens in Healthcare: Inevitable, Promising, But Unclear As Yet

by Leo Petersen-Khmelnitski

When I borrow a 100-dollar bill from you, I can return two 50-dollar bills. Or 5 bills in 20 dollars nomination. It is because our normal money is fungible, that is replaceable by another identical item or a combination of other items with the same total nomination. The same goes for usual crypto tokens, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, if you borrow 10 bitcoins from someone, you can return one by one bitcoin ten times. Cryptocurrencies that represent usual money are also fungible.

But quite a few objects and assets around us are unique. How do you tokenize them? It is not only art, though non-fungible tokens started there. Most of the things we see around us and most of the things we own have some unique feature or characteristics, including our emotional response them them. To make digital representations, digital certificates, digital passports or digital copies of unique items, such as a painting, your house, your health data, your genetic data, your blood data, non-fungible tokens were developed. You cannot divide a non-fungible token (though you assign usual dividable tokens to it), you cannot change it. However, it is a blockchain based token, hence traceable, transparent, non-immutable. Here are links to some good definitions of NFT by Forbes and by The Science Magazine, also a guide to NFTs and another one to the historic development of NFTs.

NFT to Healthcare Supply Chain

Currently, non fungible tokens are not employed widely in healthcare as they deserve to be, only a few startups have been launched so far. However, the potential for tokens that represent anything unique is enormous, only because any advanced combination of separately non-unique data is unique.

The NFT may be used in the manufacturing, logistics and other parts of supply chain for drugs and devices:

  • Blockchain based NFTs may be employed to combat counterfeit pharmacological products by automating, decentralizing, and thus strengthening resilience of streamlining of the authentication process
  • Pharmacological products supplied in batches may enjoy benefits of own NFT identifier
  • Participants to the blockchain, or all if the blockchain is public may be able to trace & trace medical drugs and devices from the point of productions, with verification of ingredients, to the point of consumption.
  • NFTs may be used to tokenize the transfer of health data, that has already become the currency of modern healthcare.

Further areas of NFTs adoption in healthcare patient-centric data management by all major healthcare stakeholders, including insurers, who may adopt NFT technology to monitor access and quality of patient treatment. Another area of adoptions are health related wearables, smart homes and interconnected medical devices, where NFTs may become the currency behind data sharing and exchange, including decentralised marketplaces (one launched already), motivation and reward tokens, as well as means to ensure data ownership.

NFT to Genetic Data

If you imagine your genetic dataset minted as an NFT token, it means that your genetic information has acquired a feature to be tracked. The owner of such a token will be able to follow information flows and see where it was used. It may also become means to hold accountable those who have used it without permit from the owner of this data, as it will require NFT authentication. Further, we as owners of NFT tokens to our own genetic data may be able to earn money when our data is used.

Currently, patients whose data are being used by the companies aren’t earning anything in most cased. However once NFTs are employed, digital health companies may attract patients to participate in studies by contributing their data and earning from it. Other parties, such as clinical researchers will be able to reach out to patients via a blockchain based direct marketplace.

NFT to Blood Transfusions

Non-fungible tokens can also be used to represent human components such as blood. Organizations that support blood donations already promote the use of non-fungible tokens. It is possible to follow a donor’s blood donation through the system by using a specific token. After transportation to the hospital, the donation is processed at a blood bank, and finally reaches its intended recipient. A digital “blood bank” can then be created by registering blood by its NFT, where the demand for particular types of blood can be tracked by a blockchain system and delivered to where it is needed.

NFT to Health Data   

One of the most promising uses of NFTs in healthcare is in the representation of health data itself. Let’s start with a basic but promising example. From the data point of view, every human is a data repository. Each piece of data (height, weight, hair color, genetic information, an entry in the EHR) may not be unique, but the combination of these entries is unique.

Representation of this data in an NFT, issued to any individual in a particular jurisdiction seems to be an efficient way to ensure identification of health data, for hashed only health data sharing, health data ownership and participation in public health programmes, as well as in clinical research. Digital healthcare infrastructures of tomorrow may lean on NFTs.

Today, patients know that the data relevant individually exists, but usually they have no direct access to this data, even per a request. With NFTs, patients may follow their data in real time, and see how it is being used. NFT will thus guarantee ownership of health data. NFT based smart  contracts (self-executable contracts and clinical protocols) may provide an opportunity for patients to specify who can access their personal health information and to track how it is shared. The hope is that NFTs may be used to democratize health data and help individuals regain control of their health data, participate in decisions on its use.

Challenges and Issues

There are also quite a few ethical, legal and social implications to deployment of non fungible tokens in healthcare. Many researchers conclude that NFTs are still vulnerable to data security flaws, privacy issues, and disputes over intellectual property rights.

Further, the present level of usability at major NFT platforms may place an average individual at a disadvantage. It is therefore important to consider and study practicalities of NFT deployment, and to focus on compliance.

NFTs deployment in healthcare is likely to occur in the near future. Will the German DTx coverage apply to NFTs?