In collaboration with SNS Bank N.V. and Deloitte, the REshape Center has developed a proof of concept of a blockchain application that makes it easier for chronic health consumers to acquire their repeat medication. The blockchain is a technology that enables two unknown parties to transfer a unique piece of digital property, without the need for a central authority – all in a safe, trustworthy and guaranteed way. The product uses iDIN, an online authentication service provided by banks, as a means to connect to the blockchain. iDIN delivers the same safety, reliability and user-friendliness as internet banking.”
Change: when faced with it, most people tend to look away. We at REshape Center see this a lot with nascent technologies. Even though some of them have the potential to drastically improve healthcare, most of us are inclined to resist this change and linger on in the status quo, no matter how poor. One of these upcoming technologies is called blockchain. Even though it is getting more and more traction, especially in the field of finance, large scale adoption is still far away. Not in the last place because of the bad reputation of bitcoin, the digital currency that made headlines in the last couple of years. Bitcoin is the first application running on blockchain technology. But it’s just that: one application running on blockchain software! So forget about bitcoin and its dubious reputation and focus on the underlying technology and it’s potential for healthcare.
Blockchain for healthcare
Now what makes blockchain so revolutionary? Traditionally, for two unknown parties to enter into a trustworthy transaction, they required an intermediary, a central authority, to broker this transaction: banks, notaries, insurers, governments etc. They would trust this third party to maintain and administer a correct and up-to-date database. What a blockchain does, is take away this “trust function” from these central parties and spread it across a network of computers. This decentralized, digital trust is created by a shared, sequential database that can be appended, but not amended: an immutable digital ledger. This ledger contains every transaction ever made to it and is open for all to see and verify. This technology is not just for payment systems that record financial transactions, but can basically be used for any interaction that requires trust. It has the potential to change the way we interact with each other, just like the internet did in the nineties. What e-mail did to the postal system – cutting out the middle man by real-time exchange of information – blockchain does for the real-time exchange of value – cutting out the so-called Trusted Third Parties. Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen described blockchain technology perfectly as “a way for one Internet user to transfer a unique piece of digital property to another Internet user, such that the transfer is guaranteed to be safe and secure, everyone knows that the transfer has taken place, and nobody can challenge the legitimacy of the transfer”. These characteristics are ideal for situations where there are lots of different, unknown parties and trust and transparancy are essential. Bringing us to healthcare. After all, healthcare is all about transactional data exchanges of sensitive information: transactions between healthcare providers and consumers, consumers and insurers, insurers and pharmaceutical companies and the list goes on. Lots of parties, means lot of interactions, which means lots of potential errors, abuse, time loss and unnecessary costs. Blockchain technology can help fight these problems.
When we at REshape learned about the characteristics of blockchain technology, we thought they could be perfectly used to fix some of the many inefficiencies healthcare faces today. So instead of putting our heads in the ground or look away, we decided to explore the possibilities of this new technology and stay ahead of the curve. In order for us to do this, we teamed up with two parties from different industries: SNS Bank N.V. and Deloitte. The thing we have in common: our desire to put the customer first.