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How The Decentralized Web Will Drive Innovation In The Healthcare Industry

By Jonathan Bingham | February 25, 2019

This post originally appeared on Heath IT Outcomes

HIMSS is here once again and, as the industry gathers to explore the nexus of healthcare and technology, the one trend most will not be talking about is the decentralized web. But, mark my words, this movement and its underlying technologies are set to radically disrupt healthcare. Decentralized web technologies have the potential to reshape the way innovations are conceived and insights are discovered, to overhaul how providers deliver care and value, and to render data privacy concerns a thing of the past—all topics that feature in HIMSS’ own “2019 Healthcare Trends Forecast: The Beginning of a Consumer-Driven Reformation,” report. 2019 Healthcare Trends Forecast: The Beginning of a Consumer-Driven Reformation

Whether you are a practitioner, provider or payer, digital health startup, Big Pharma or tech vendor, the time to start exploring the decentralized web is now. Because by this time next year, its material impact on patient experiences, medical discovery and innovation will have begun – and we can as an industry focus less on the burdens and liability of data privacy.  

What Is The Decentralized Web?

When the web was invented in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, it was intended as a place of collaboration, opportunity and empowerment—for everyone. Fast forward thirty years and things have changed. Today’s web is dominated by centralized big tech players who monopolize economies and markets, feeding off the troves of data that every day users hand over. Just look at Amazon’s aspirations for healthcare. By contrast, the decentralized movement seeks to restore balance on the web by giving people unprecedented control over their data, completely altering the way consumers and technology interact.

The reason the movement is now becoming mainstream is the recent commercialization of Berners-Lee’s technology Solid. I’ve been fortunate to play a role in Solid’s evolution from its academic origins and, of all the transformational technology shifts I’ve witnessed and worked on, this could be the most potent opportunity for healthcare and technology reinvention. In fact, I believe it could radically redefine the entire industry and especially, the relationship between citizens and public and private healthcare on a nation by nation level.

How It Works

Decentralized web technologies allow people to store data in their personal online data stores (PODs), permitting access only to the people, apps, groups or businesses they value and trust. The technology uses linked data, a set of best practices for publishing and connecting structured data on the web. This means you no longer “give” your data to apps and businesses; you permit them to view it.

It also will radically alter the way applications are built. Today, data sits inside an app’s four walls accessing a narrow slice of a user’s digital identity. For example, your FitBit app tracks your steps and heart rate. Weight Watchers tracks your calorie input. HeadSpace guides your meditations. One Drop helps manage your diabetes. Doctor on Demand gets you a video appointment with a doctor. And so on.

By contrast, decentralized apps can access all and any data stored on any POD, anywhere in the globe – as long as permission is granted by the POD owners. This creates a world of opportunity for building new kinds of innovative apps and services. For developers, it means a focus on ideas and the front-end, since technologies like Solid have a universal backend. Imagine a world where you can create one holistic app that links to and combines multiple sources of health data and seamlessly integrates with EHR systems (because linked data is language/format agnostic.)

An End To The Burden Of Data Privacy And Compliance

No doctor went to school to study HIPAA. I’m sure hospitals prefer to focus their time, resources, and expertise on patient outcomes rather than complying with regulations and storing and securing data. The decentralized web will dramatically unburden healthcare providers from the operational costs and risks of data security and privacy protections so they can instead focus on delivering care.

Empowered Patients Raise The Bar For Service And Value

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of the decentralized web will be patients. Not only will their privacy be assured but they will have full ownership and control of their health data, rather than today’s fragmented set up where their data resides in multiple, disconnected systems. This will empower consumers to select only the providers that deliver the personalized, patient-centered experiences they desire. If a patient no longer visits or trusts a particular practitioner, they simply revoke access to their POD. For providers, this creates a whole new competitive landscape based on value and quality service.

Accelerated Insights And Discoveries

One area where I see the most potential is the medical research community. Today’s models for research are fundamentally limited by the confines of data silos, not to mention vast untapped data sets. But imagine a model where patient pods can be linked, where access to disease data is on-demand and pooled. I call this decentralized intelligence and it will lead not only to new insights but also will create entirely new business models and revenue streams.

How Do We Get From Here To There?

I’ll be the first to admit that the decentralized web transformation won’t be a quick fix for the healthcare industry: the technology and its ecosystem is nascent. But for an industry bogged down in data integration and compliance challenges, it promises a tidal wave of relief and innovation. And for patients who are already demanding personalized, data-driven care, it will be a no brainer. Healthcare executives I’ve spoken with are already imagining the improved care and competitive advantage that will be possible and are starting to explore the business and technology ramifications.

About The Author

Jonathan Bingham is CEO of Janeiro Digital, a business transformation and technology firm that helps enterprises dream bigger and transform faster. Janeiro is working to help commercialize the Solid decentralized web platform and bring it to enterprise market. Jonathan has spent over fifteen years as part of the technology ecosystem. Prior to Janeiro Digital, he founded Intrusic, an enterprise security solution that raised over $20 million in venture capital. Jonathan has won multiple awards for product innovation, spoken as an industry expert around the world, and been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, and numerous technology sector publications.  

Jonathan Bingham

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