Blockchain and Non-Fungible Tokens in Healthcare
Authors: Amina Khalpey, PhD, Parker Wilson, DO, Zain Khalpey, MD, PhD, FACS
Non-Fungible Tokens and Blockchain Explained:
The use of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in healthcare is a relatively new concept that is gaining attention. NFTs are unique digital assets that can be used to represent ownership or authenticity of various items. NFT cannot be modified, and its authenticity is validated through the blockchain on which it is stored. Originally, these NFTs were mainly artwork, video clips and unique spots on discrete private blockchains.
Blockchain are distributed ledgers or records of transactions that are decentralized, or spread between all members of the blockchain. All transactions are recorded and confirmed by the members of the blockchain. Blockchains, therefore, store immense data from the millions of transactions recorded in their ledgers and this data is often stored on multiple “nodes” of supercomputers that can efficiently store data. It is important to realize this system is able to be changed to fit the needs of the people building the blockchain; it can be public, private or even permissioned as to allow security.
Considering their use in healthcare, NFTs could represent medical records, clinical trial data, or even individual health status on hospital blockchains. This could create both safe, shareable data between hospitals, patients and other involved parties. In this post, we discuss both the potential benefits and drawbacks of NFTs and blockchain in healthcare.
One of the main benefits of using NFTs in healthcare is accessibility and transparency. Within the blockchain, NFTs could be accessed and shared between patients and hospital staff easily.1 Patients would have direct ownership of their medical records and could maintain control over who has access to their data.2 These data would be transparent and immutable, once it was published it could not be altered which leads to transparency.
The blockchain has been touted as a secure alternative for storage and transfer of data. The blockchain on which the NFTs are stored can be private or permissioned to prevent any unauthorized use of this data. Additionally, the data could be protected from phishing and mining by multiple individuals within the blockchain rather than just one security team.
Smart contracts and complex permission systems could be put in place as to enhance security measures. A smart contracts is a rule-based algorithm that allows automated self-execution of the approval process when predetermined conditions or rules are met, which removes the need for human input in the execution process.1
Additionally, there is an immutable log of access and actions within a blockchain that would allow enhanced monitoring of the medical records stored on the blockchain. This could help prevent fraud or tampering. Records would not be tampered with and this could also make it easier for researchers to verify the accuracy of trial data and ensure that the results are valid.
The immutable log of actions within the blockchain would allow any bad actors to be caught quickly and efficiently.3 All these actions could help prevent unauthorized access or breaches of medical information, which is a growing concern in the healthcare industry.
However, there are also some potential drawbacks to using NFTs in healthcare. One concern is the potential for increased costs. Creating and maintaining a blockchain network to support NFTs can be expensive, which could make it difficult for some healthcare organizations to adopt this technology.4
Another potential drawback is the potential for regulatory challenges. Healthcare is a highly regulated industry, and there are a number of laws and regulations that govern the collection, use, and sharing of medical data. It is not yet clear how NFTs will fit into this regulatory landscape, which could create uncertainty and risk for healthcare organizations that adopt this technology.
Finally, there is also the potential for ethical concerns. NFTs could be used to create a market for medical data or health status, which could lead to issues of equity and access. There is also the potential for discrimination or bias, particularly if certain groups are more likely to own or trade NFTs.
In conclusion, while there are potential benefits to using blockchains and NFTs in healthcare, there are also some potential drawbacks that need to be carefully considered. Before adopting this technology, healthcare organizations will need to weigh the potential benefits against the potential costs, regulatory challenges, and ethical concerns. Overall, NFTs have the potential to be a powerful tool in healthcare, but their use will need to be carefully managed to ensure that they are used in a way that is safe, ethical, and beneficial to patients.
1.Teo, Z.L., Ting, D.S.W. Non-fungible tokens for the management of health data. Nat Med 29, 287–288 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-022-02125-2
2. Daniel M Walker, Cynthia J Sieck, Terri Menser, Timothy R Huerta, Ann Scheck McAlearney, Information technology to support patient engagement: where do we stand and where can we go?, Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, Volume 24, Issue 6, November 2017, Pages 1088–1094, https://doi.org/10.1093/jamia/ocx043
3. P. V. Klaine, L. Zhang, B. Zhou, Y. Sun, H. Xu and M. Imran, “Privacy-Preserving Contact Tracing and Public Risk Assessment Using Blockchain for COVID-19 Pandemic,” in IEEE Internet of Things Magazine, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 58-63, September 2020, doi: 10.1109/IOTM.0001.2000078.
4. Truby, J. et al. Energy Res. Social Sci. 99, 399–410 (2022).