Emergency, pandemic, crisis — three words that are all too often used to start any news headline. Governments and businesses know all too well, the breadth of challenges they have to overcome during and after the outbreak. Navigating crisis management during a global threat is complicated, but implementing blockchain credentials systems could be the viable solution we need.
Armed with blockchain solutions, public healthcare organizations, businesses and government establishments could just speed up economic recovery and reinforce the struggle to save more lives. In a Blockchain Research Institute special report titled “Blockchain Solutions in Pandemics: A Call for Innovation and Transformation in Public Health”.
The report aims to provide more information on approaches that can be taken in times of criss and proposes a framework to tackle challenges in the new paradigm. While being only an informative paper, the values and ideas offered up by the paper give food for thought. It is worthwhile considering how they could be implemented in real life, given their particular relevance to the critical services industry.
Framework for action
The paper goes on to propose the formation of a government led task-force for blockchain initiatives. Such establishments would begin research into blockchain-based applications by consolidating data on the supply and demand side of the equation. What is more, these task-forces would unite and partner with civil establishments to address pressing issues, not only in times of a pandemic, but especially so in times of one.
The report’s authors say, “Technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, augmented/virtual reality, and above all, blockchain are more relevant than ever – not just to business and the economy but to the future of public health and the safety of global populations”.
The proposed points of the framework for action span both the private sector and civil society and encroach on the following Health data and identity, supply chains, economic sustainability, skills and talent registry, and incentives for change.
Identity and data governance
The first point in the framework for action, like many other things, starts with data. Data is a crucial resource, especially digital identity data. Data governance is a debated topic, with the GDPR setting the footsteps for data privacy and data governance two years ago. On a state level, governments acknowledge that it is the individual, who owns their digital data. At the same time, many countries are still uncertain about executing on existing legislation and creating governance authorities that will be responsible for digital data handling.
The report draws heavily on the example of China, which used ample data resources, such as CCTV, facial recognition, geolocation and tracking to ensure stay at home measures were being followed. What resulted in a seemingly hostile encroachment on personal rights and a permissionless access to people’s data, was after all praised by the same people, who felt proud for the unified response.
According to the report, several test cases of introducing smart contract technology to manage digital identities has already given individuals control over their data. An integration of smart contract platform Access Pass and WeChat allowed users to generate QR codes to enter their gated communities based on identity using a blockchain-based cloud service.
The report relies on the term self-sovereign identities, which implies the governance of data by individuals and the ability to share it voluntarily via blockchain for research and crisis management, if need be. Because medical data remains a subset of a person’s digital identity, it makes sense to instill governance in the individual, as opposed to relying on companies that employ user generated data and claim it as their own.
In times of a pandemic, citizens could volunteer personal data, such as body temperature for predictive analysis and, release treatment critical information about their medical history. The results of this shared crowd intelligence could power research and testing, and pivot the fight against the current crisis at this late stage or international crises yet to come.
On the subject of data regulation, this year saw the EU draft a regulatory framework proposal on how the shared markets can make use of collected data and protect individuals’ information in a digital and data-driven economy.
Supply chain and manufacturing
In healthcare, as is the case with many other industries, supply chains have been disrupted. It seems now, more than ever, is the time to introduce blockchain into the equation. Distributed ledger technology has long been propheted as the best use case for supply chain management.
In medicine, blockchain could provide a transparent view into medical supplies: availability, stock, delivery, manufacturers — all of this would be freely available to participating medical practices and healthcare organizations. Specifically in times when lung ventilation systems are scarce, hospitals could benefit from a unified database of available machines and the network effects of blockchain technology.
Tracking surplus medication reduces risk of hoarding and supply shortages. One company, RemediChain, uses a mobile application and a blockchain based national registry of oncology drugs. Apart from RemediChain, the report lists 6 other blockchain efforts, which have up and running operations in the US pharmaceutical sector.
Through collaboration with notary bodies, by verifying vendor credentials and creating a self-sovereign identity for the actual things via digital tokens, blockchain-based ecosystems can help reduce the risk of fraud. Moreover, issues related to delayed logistics can be expedited by automating paperwork and reducing the amount of red tape involved.
Money and financial services
The pandemic gave way to more contactless payments, inching paper money that much closer to obsoletion. Even more so it has driven the case for other cash alternatives such as digital cash. The reasoning that hard cash could be a carrier of the COVID-19 virus puts the final nail in the coffin of paper currency.
However, the transition to digital cash is the transition to a surveillance system, where every purchase is traceable. Digital payment processors accrue user data that can be monetized by the processor, not the user. This is why the alternative to cash must be a decentralized one.
The processing power of a decentralized blockchain platform, as well as the inheritance of a digital currency account from birth could resolve such issues as those faced by the stimulus fund receptors across the US. The current antiquated mechanism has stalled fund-seekers from receiving the monetary support that could keep them afloat. Moreover, the transparency of transfers on a blockchain could guarantee that the remittances of funds reach intended targets.
In a much grander interpretation, financial institutions should consider the establishment of a distributed autonomous organization (DAO). Because such a body would rely on a distributed ledger platform, its financial transparency would be complete and decision-making would be reached by consensus. To adopt this level of organizational governance, it might be worth for more traditional organizations to weigh the option as well.
Healthcare talent management
Not only are medical institutions experiencing a shortage of personal protective equipment, they are also considerably understaffed. The pressure is palpable more so now, in times of a pandemic.
The number of people willing to help, from grad students to retired medical staff, who have not (re)certified for work is quite high. Unfortunately, state systems have not been able to cope with closing the talent gap, and the licensing and staffing challenges in its way.
To overcome the hurdles of time-consuming administrative tasks, and quickly match the right healthcare professional with the practice , medical certifications could be implemented on the blockchain. In other words, creating a transparent and trusted skills marketplace. Moreover, it would feature a unified database of qualifications, without having to resort to different sources.
Going even further, online education platforms for medical staff, if run on a blockchain-based system, could automatically add credits to the individuals network ID. It would also facilitate the distribution of talent across-state borders by automatically alerting professionals to openings that match their skills in a given jurisdiction.
Incentives for behavioral change
Being on the subject of blockchain technology, it is impossible not to talk about incentivizing behavioral change. These are crucial in powering the network, which faces the issues of both preventing the outbreak from growing, and mitigating its damage now. The answer seems to lie in programmable money and incentive mechanisms.
In a healthcare setting, crowd-sourced intelligence in the form of voluntarily submitted data could help power AI algorithms that perform contact tracing and symptom monitoring. In exchange for submitted data, individuals and organizations alike could be rewarded by ample bonuses in the form of discounts, loyalty points, digital tokens and even digital cash.
In societies where privacy is treated as a more sensitive subject, data could be shared in a more anonymous format to advance research or support an incident map.
The state of things
A group of researchers in Spain are already working on the concept of a digital application that could help trace the spread of the virus by imbuing users with a digital identity. In Holland, a group of digital and IT firms has offered up blockchain technology solutions for the purpose of combating the spread and study of the pandemic. Even the Dutch Red Cross is welcoming distributed ledger technology for donations of Bitcoin.
While companies like Apple and Google have formed alliances to develop technological solutions to stave off the spread of the pandemic, blockchain goes largely ignored. However, the technology’s potential is vastly untapped, though more often adopted now than ever in the face of a global crisis.
Blockchain’s use cases vary beyond the limits of the healthcare industry. The technology’s ability to gather people into communities driven by common goals has been proven, as its ability to serve a greater good, all the while ensuring trust and protection of data. Apart from the implementation challenges, differing standards and the issue of governance, which have to be resolved case by case, shared values can be the critical factor for adopting the technology as outlined in the action plan.
For more examples of data governance, supply chain, talent market, financial market, and incentive-based initiatives, see BRI’s full report “Blockchains in Pandemics”.