NFTs may allow patients to regain control over their health data

A bioethics team from the Baylor College of Medicine argue that NFTs may hold the key to protecting patient data.

Non-fungible tokens, also known as NFTs, captured the worlds attention with their use as a medium to buy and sell artistic goods supported by a digital agreement. Most NFTs circulated through the art world and became attached to that atmosphere of creation and sales, but a new study asks if NFTs can go beyond this medium, and into other arenas, disciplines, and marketplaces. A team of scholars from a variety a disciplines around the world – lead by a bioethics teams at the Baylor College of Medicine –  have published a new study in the journal Science on how NFTs could aid the healthcare industry. 

The land of cryptocurrency market prices and all that surrounds it is not something that would be grouped immediately with the world of healthcare. But the environment is rapidly expanding, including the applications of NFTs. Bitcoin and digital wallets are becoming more accepted and the distrust between the public in storing data and the distribution of data is overlapping into the healthcare industry. Financial regulations are mirroring that of medical regulations, which the authors of the study argue is connected to a distrust of where the data goes when it leaves the privacy of a medical facility.

Data privacy is a healthcare concern

One of the biggest concerns healthcare leaders face is how to address a patient’s needs regarding their own data, while also masking sensitive, personal data such as their identity. Currently, the only way to ensure anonymity of the patient is with a “patient token,” but this token cannot be transferred or sold, it cannot be shared, and it is non-refundable too. This is where non-fungible tokens, also known as NFTs, come into play for the healthcare industry.

The study’s author, Dr. Kristin Kostick-Quenet, shares that “NFTs could be used to democratize health data” and goes on to share that the movement of digital medical data, information and records are an enigma when placed in electronic format, opening the door for NFTs to provide the autonomy that comes when adigitized health information is accessed beyond the exchange of an original patient. 

Dr. Amy McGuire, the study’s principle investigator, shared that in an atmosphere where the monopolization of data is slipping out of the hands of patients, health information is “commodified and profitable”, backing security claims about where medical documents go once a doctors’ visit has come to an end. Scientists agree that NFTs could be the answer, changing the game for access to information, especially for individuals. 

Machine learning is coming to the front line when it comes down to efficiency and access of data. In this era of profitable data, studies show a growing number of individuals failing to put their trust in the healthcare industry. New forms of how people can own their digital record will aid in what the study is calling “patient-controlled health data” leaning into Dr. Kostick-Quenet’s claim alongside her team that the new form will be democratized, and power placed back in the hands of the patient when it comes to health records. 

NFTs also bring challenges

Refutations about the NFT phenomenon are common, with most protesting that the landscape of the electronic ecosystem could be filled with certain vulnerabilities such as theft, forgery, and cyber security concerns. The authors of the study added that the potential of NFTs certainly needs to consider multiple factors, and that both pros and cons must be weighted when we consider their use in health data.

Kenneth Mandl, another co-author of the paper outlines that federal laws allow patients today to connect to an electronic counterpart to obtain and utilize their data. Groups such as SSM Health and others are working to implement QR codes with cohesive data charts, vaccination records, and visits all in the simple form of a mobile app. This allows for thought into how the NFT landscape could help patients share and use intelligent auto-systems to connect to their data in the future. 

Going forward, NFTs could enter the healthcare industry with a variety of use cases. NFTs could be used to support patient consent for data transfer, supporting the decentralization of healthcare apps and services. The technology’s seemingly limitless scope is its greatest asset. For example, the ability to connect with healthcare providers to help manage and update profile information, especially in situations where the patient may not be able to do so themselves. This is just one of several potential utilities. When combined with the ability to grant access to outside applications and control how patient information is accessed, it could put patients in control of their own healthcare while allowing us to better serve them through technology.