Before our lives as U.S. citizens were upended as we knew it, the idea of some data nerds hoping to cure the U.S. healthcare system of all its ailments probably would not be in the headlines. With the limited activities of life inside, surfing the web to learn the latest on coronavirus is one activity in which most Americans are likely to engage. This story examines how blockchain technology may help us trust the information we are given as accurate and timely.
In an age where information is at our fingertips, a recent poll from NPR provides insights into who we trust most in providing us information on coronavirus. With the choices including the President, news media, state and local officials, and public health experts, public health experts led the pack when it came to entrusting the accuracy of information provided.
One of these public health experts is providing a nervous population timely and accurate information on coronavirus. Jim Nasr is the CEO of Acoer and has offered a data visualization tool for COVID-19 offering real-time and trusted information on coronavirus. As the former Chief Software Architect at the Center for Disease Control in the Obama Administration, he is someone most Americans would likely trust on receiving much-needed accurate and timely information.
It is not just his credentials that might lead you to trust him – he also uses blockchain-enabled technology to create a Coronavirus (COVID-19) tracker, where machines provide the fuel for trusting the data inputs. Mr. Nasr defines blockchain as a ‘computational trust protocol,’ and uses Hedera Hashgraph, a public distributed ledger technology, to create trust in the data used in his visualization tool.
Jim sees blockchain as a way of providing trusted data to the public when the source of the information is at a premium in the case of the current pandemic. He noted, ‘For most Americans, blockchain is a term that is becoming more and more familiar and typically involves a connection to bitcoin. As a peer-to-peer exchange of digital currency, blockchain’s first use case in 2009 was bitcoin.’ Jim sees the conflation of these concepts as a negative for how the technology can be leveraged in health care.
‘The more we talk about other use cases, the less we talk about bitcoin, the better.’ Regarding his view of what is distinctive about blockchain, he states, ‘Blockchain is a platform for computational trust.’
To understand the benefit of blockchain to this visualization, data from the CDC, World Health Organization, and clinicaltrials.gov is digested into the system and a reference file including the data and metadata is created that matches this information to the source. This file is confirmed by a blockchain or distributed ledger technology where a ‘timestamp’ of when the information was received and from what source is securely recorded and publicly available for others to review.
Jim states the distributed ledger technology he uses (known as Hedera Hashgraph) is a way to ‘provide the public a tamperproof transaction log of everything that has happened on Hedera,’. With extremely efficient and computationally sound aspects that makes Hedera Hashgraph one of the trusted platforms he uses to ‘offer a computational trust layer to prove what I have done’.
Victoria Adams, a leading blockchain influencer, notes, ‘It is vital that we understand the provenance of these data and be able to trace back how it has been used. Blockchain is vital in this respect. We much know not only what we know but how reliable that data is. Tools like the Hedera Hashgraph DLT can be vital in providing this information.’
Avoiding Tradeoffs Of Health Care Privacy To Fight COVID-19
Heather Leigh Flannery, Founder and CEO of ConsensSys Health, also includes blockchain technology in helping to achieve ‘computational trust’ of public health data. ‘At ConsenSys Health, Covid-19 response is our number one priority. We are working on constellations of tech for the benefit of humanity as this pandemic is continuing.’
Heather does not believe we need to give up all of our rights to personal privacy when it comes to healthcare data in the rush to fight this pandemic. ‘The current ethos is to give up all our personal privacy. This is problematic in the long term, and we should be prioritizing technology that can help us advance public health while preserving personal privacy. Blockchain alone does not deliver this privacy. However, this technology used in concert with two other families of technology: zero knowledge cryptography and federated analytic and machine learning does.’
As U.S. citizens accepts the reality of a major pandemic and the information on coronavirus is at an all-time premium, the idea of whether blockchain technology can engender trust in the information provided on the coronavirus will certainly be put to the test.
Disclosure: Jason Brett has worked at ConsenSys. Additional, he serves as CEO and President of the Value Technology Foundation, where Hedera Hashgraph is a contributor.