The globe appears to be divided into pro- and anti-NFT camps when it comes to NFTs, a type of digital certificate that verifies an asset as being unique. Others in the former group promote it as a cutting-edge method of financing and owning digital media, while those opposed to NFTs emphasize, among many other things, its catastrophic consequences on the environment.
But despite NFT artwork valued at $69.3 million and reliant on technology that uses as much energy as an entire nation, NFTs represent a special opportunity in the era of digital health: that of patients controlling their own digital health data rather than corporations. With such a high degree of ownership, patients might use it to their advantage to monetize their data as opposed to letting businesses benefit from them, as has been the case in the past.
NFTs are novel, therefore their potential in healthcare may not even be understood, let alone what they are and how they operate. This essay will introduce you to the fundamentals of NFTs, discuss how they might increase patient empowerment in the era of digital health, and highlight relevant concerns about the technology.
A non-fungible token is “a unique digital certificate, recorded on a blockchain, that is used to document ownership of an object such as an artwork or a collectible,” according to dictionary publisher Collins, who named it the Word of the Year for 2021. Blockchain technology is used to create or “mine” NFT transactions, similar to how cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin work.
In essence, the concept depends on a decentralized network of computers using cutting-edge cryptography to confirm a transaction’s legitimacy. We have discussed the utility of blockchain in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, emphasizing its capacity to protect private medical information and prevent the sale of fake medications.
By granting individuals unprecedented power over their medical information, NFTs might positively alter the digital health sector, much as they have already done for the art world.
Personal health sensors and applications provide patients with individualized data as we enter the digital health era, enabling them to take a more proactive approach to managing their health. It is still frequently the case that the businesses offering these services are in charge of these sensitive data and frequently make money off of it while neglecting patients. For instance, it was discovered that the pregnancy-tracking app Ovia sold employers aggregated user data. Similar to this, 23andMe plans to create medications using the genetic information collected from consumers who used its genetic testing kits; these customers may not even have been made expressly aware that their data may be used in this way.
Simply said, it is unfair for private organizations to profit from patient data in this manner. The same should hold true for monetizing personal health data if the genuine paradigm shift in digital health—that of patient empowerment—occurs, and NFTs may turn the tide in this area.
Potentials of NFT in Healthcare
Let’s say you’ve made the decision to acquire a direct-to-consumer DNA testing kit so that a private firm may create a nutrition plan specific to your genetic profile. Additionally, you are aware that the above could sell your genetic information to other parties for study. However, you decide to utilize the service anyhow because it’s the most precise way to acquire a customized diet at a reasonable cost.
The corporation, however, might make millions by selling your genetic information as well as that of other people, but they will never give it to you. Additionally, the danger of the information being handled improperly grows when such sensitive data are transmitted through the transaction chain.
Now, if your genetic information were created as NFTs, it would have the ability to be monitored inherently. Since you are the exclusive owner of the data, as confirmed by the NFT authentication, you would be able to track its final destination and hold anyone who utilized it without your consent responsible. Additionally, the NFT owner can activate a function to make money each time a transaction using the data takes place.
Patients from whom the data are utilized by Ovia and 23andMe, for example, are not receiving any compensation from the businesses. However, by providing their data and profiting from it, NFT-based businesses that provide digital health services might entice patients to engage in research. Patients might be contacted directly on a digital marketplace by other third parties interested in using the data for research or creating new goods. The primary distinction between this method and the conventional one is that patients truly do have the option to disclose their data more knowledgeably.
The usage of patient data might therefore become more open with the supporting blockchain technology and an NFT certification, giving patients ownership over their medical information.
Is there a future for NFTs in medicine?
There are several startups that are investigating the possibilities of NFT in the healthcare industry, even if much of it is still hypothetical at this stage. But various possible barriers might prevent widespread use of the technology in the near future, particularly in the field of healthcare. Blockchain technology currently operates fairly inefficiently, requiring significant energy even for little transactions. Significant greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change, are also linked to this. NFTs could not be completely economically feasible as a result in the near future. Alternatives to NFT minting, however, are being developed that may only require a small portion of the processing power used by its existing transactions.
The question of whether businesses providing digital health services would genuinely want to utilize the technology is another one. Given that companies have historically profited off patients rather than the other way around, they may not be all that interested in sharing their earnings with them.