, Singapore

Tokenising healthcare through NFTs simplifies health data management and cuts costs

By using NFTs, patients can securely store and share their test results with hospitals.

Singaporeans who see different doctors for various medical conditions are often required to get simple tests multiple times. For example, those with diabetes need to take HbA1c tests when they visit an endocrinologist, which can be repetitive and expensive if they see different healthcare providers during follow-up visits. Hence, two health professionals hope to use non-fungible tokens (NFT) to store medical data and allow doctors and hospitals to access it, saving patients' time and money.

Dr. Teo Zhen Ling, an ophthalmology resident at Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), said currently, patient data is being secured and shared when needed by institutions such as healthcare providers and insurance firms. Using NFTs to manage health data will allow patients to own and share their data, similar to how digital assets are being traded in the form of NFTs in commercial markets.

“This empowers patients to take greater ownership of their health, which has been shown to produce better healthcare outcomes in the long run,” Zhen told Singapore Business Review.

NFT as a safe space for patient data

Since the blockchain is traceable and unalterable, patient data stored as NFT can ensure complete transparency and accuracy of research data.

“This leads to greater data integrity and better research outcomes, which could potentially produce novel healthcare solutions to streamline workflows or improve clinical outcomes, saving healthcare costs in the long run,” Zhen said.

In a published journal, Zhen and Associate Professor Daniel Shu Wei Ting, the senior and corresponding author of the paper and a senior consultant at SNEC, explained how NFTs are created.

According to the journal, NFTs can be created via the minting of existing digital data, or they can use generative data, where the digital product is produced in whole or in part by an autonomous system.

Once encoded with blockchain technology, an NFT cannot be modified, and its authenticity is validated through the blockchain in which it is stored. 

Before minting, the data must be cleaned, verified by verifiable credentials, and converted into an actionable form. This procedure allows individuals to own and trade digital assets between parties such as global medical networks, pharmaceutical companies, or insurance companies. 

Future of healthcare in NFT

Using NFT can also strengthen health data management, although there are still obstacles and considerations to implementing it for patient data storage.

Ting, who is also the director of the artificial intelligence office at SingHealth, revealed that there should be an evaluation first. This includes establishing the proper tech infrastructure, such as a blockchain-enabled “biodata” platform, and establishing safeguards to prevent cybersecurity issues such as theft of NFTs can be handled.

“Nonetheless, NFTs in healthcare have many exciting potential benefits and could revolutionise health data management in the time to come,” said Ting.

Zhen suggested using NFTs for the management of health data could also be used for “altruistic research purposes.” 

She said researchers’ gathering of patient data for research through clinic visits can be time-consuming. But this will be fast-tracked by tokenisation of data.

“The tokenisation of data will speed up the process by allowing patients to authorise the exchange of their anonymised data to verified research groups in a secure manner,” Zhen concluded.

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