Brought to you by the FCB Health Engagement Strategy team
Blockchain technology, also known as distributed ledger technology, is a decentralized database that is shared among various users. First introduced as the basis of cryptocurrency, blockchain has evolved into a secure format to share information and monitor transactions.
Each block contains information from the previous block, thus creating a record of the changes made. All parties that are on the chain have access to see the activity that is recorded, making it apparent if the blocks are edited. It is extremely difficult to successfully alter data on a blockchain.
Various types of information can be stored on a blockchain, such as cryptocurrency transactions, decentralized financial applications, smart contracts, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), medical records, and supply chain records.
1) Clinical Trial Data
Over the last few years, several pharma companies have invested in ways to back up clinical trial data on blockchains. In 2020, a consortium of pharma companies from around the world, including Novartis, Pfizer, and GSK, began collaborating on a way to expediate blockchain enabled healthcare.
The project, known as PharmaLedger, focuses on several initiatives, including the validity and security of research and clinical trial data, that will help deliver innovation in healthcare that may benefit all stakeholders. The program hopes to provide transparency, auditability, traceability, and detailed access control regarding clinical trial management.7
2) Drug Tracing
With the race to provide life-saving and preventative care in the form of vaccines, PharmaLedger has also backed the use of blockchain for reliable drug tracing using prescription drug serialization, confronting the threat of counterfeit medications. Blockchain can help companies managing manufacturing, from guaranteeing the safety of the ingredients and chemical makeup of the drugs to ensuring shipments are safe and valid for distribution.8
3) Remote Patient Monitoring
Exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the need for remote patient monitoring and securely transmitting confidential records and patient consent is at an all-time high. Fortunately, blockchain technology allows for an added layer of security in this environment. Companies like BurstIQ, MedicalChain, Patinventory, and Robomed are helping doctors and patients alike transmit confidential information and see any changes that are made. Patients with ongoing symptoms that require various types of treatment will be able to securely hold onto their records and can trust the chain’s security. 9, 10
4) Accurate Data Collection & Metrics
By 2023, advertising losses are expected to reach $100 billion due to falsified ad clicks and exaggerated engagement numbers. This epidemic in the ad-world is detrimental, given that a campaign’s effectiveness lies within reaching the right audience with the hope that they engage with the content.
Browser company Brave has partnered with TAP Network to create a blockchain-based digital advertising system and rewards program to combat this deceitful practice. Companies, like Verizon and Newegg, that choose to advertise through Brave’s platform have seen an increase in revenue share and better conversions due to the high quality of engagements and verifiable data.11
Brave’s rewards program also incentivizes consumers to safely share their data with advertisers. Users can choose which websites or companies to support and earn Basic Attention Tokens (BAT) by opting to engage with their advertisements. Users can earn up to 20 BAT per month (roughly equivalent to $5 USD), which can be held in a digital wallet or converted to a currency of their choice. 12, 13, 14, 15
The 51% Attack
The power of decentralized verification networks lies in the large number of people working to verify the data on a blockchain. The sheer number of machines, called mining rigs, that are involved creates a trustless system. One does not need to know or trust the other parties involved to have faith in the system.16
However, this is only true as long as the network of mining rigs is distributed fairly. If any one person or allied group of people controls more than 50% of the network, they can effectively manipulate the information on the blockchain. This is referred to as the 51% attack, or majority attack, and is an unavoidable possibility when using blockchain technology.
Fortunately, as a blockchain grows and matures, the likelihood of a 51% attack happening decreases due to the increased effort and resources needed to successfully overtake the majority. 17
Garbage In, Garbage Out
Even after considering the risk of the 51% attack, it’s hard to imagine a more secure data management system than blockchain. After all, well-known chains like Bitcoin are verified by literally millions of people.18
This decentralized verification process is what makes the data on the blockchain so secure, but—and this is a pretty big but—incorrect, even fraudulent, information can still be entered into the blockchain. Because of the immutable nature blockchains, it’s important to ensure that that the original data being entered for verification is high quality. 19
With millions of mining rigs around the world verifying data on blockchains, these networks require enormous amounts of energy. Not only does each rig consume energy during the verification process, they also create so much heat that housing facilities, often warehouses, need infrastructure in place to keep the equipment from overheating.
Some companies, like Genesis Mining, which built a facility called Enigma in Iceland, have selected their locations because the natural environment lends itself to more sustainable energy consumption. Mining operations in Iceland use more electricity than all its homes combined, running up electric bills exceeding $1 million per month, but the swaths of water and underground heat from the volcanos means that they can run on cheaper and greener electricity created by hydroelectric dams and geothermal power stations. Plus, the typically cooler air temperature keeps the machines from overheating without the help of much more than fans—albeit hundreds of thousands of them. 20
As the uses for blockchain continue to expand, companies will have to manage the growing cost and impact on the energy grid.