CES POV: Are Web3 and NFTs Going to Impact Healthcare?

David Hogben, Head of North America and Global Multichannel, McCann Health Complete HealthVizion

After listening to several presentations and keynotes at CES 2022, the short answer is yes. Web3 and NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are indeed going to impact healthcare, specifically healthcare communications. But when and how? These require longer answers and are open to significant discussion.

To begin, let’s look at Web3. What is Web3? It is a more open, decentralized internet that includes NFTs. Web3 essentially tries to remove the large web platform providers and the systems we all use to get information (eg, Facebook and Google) and instead use other openly available tools that do not require individual logins.

So then, what exactly is an NFT? An NFT is used to represent ownership of a specific digital asset. NFTs are effectively the same as a title or deed for any physical item you might own (eg, your house, your car, your boat), with the difference being that they are digital and secured using blockchain technology, which is what Web3 is built on. 

There were some genuine parallels between the Web3 and healthcare discussions at CES 2022. During Abbott’s keynote session (notably, the first time a healthcare company delivered a major keynote at CES), the company shared its vision for the democratization of healthcare, and the Web3 discussion at CES similarly addressed the democratization of the internet.

There were several presentations discussing the impact of Web3 on other industries, many with a heavy focus on the art industry. Digital art companies use NFTs to buy and sell artwork, but interestingly, these NFTs also allow customers to pay a “micro-royalty” fee or nominal payment for use of the artwork via cryptocurrency.

Other shared insights included how this technology or exchange is finally having an additional impact on the digital art world, which had previously been a very traditional marketplace for a long time. Web3 technology has broken down barriers for artists, leveling the playing field for many. Artists or art dealers no longer need to be located in a traditional art “hub” like New York to sell their works. This decentralization and secure online ownership mean those looking to sell or buy art can be anywhere in the world and have access to the same community of people, as long as they have internet connectivity.

What does all this mean for healthcare?

Simply put, it could change the landscape of access. While more access is surely a good thing when we consider healthcare, it will require a shift in the way we publish and share scientific publications and content. In the world of publications, content is presented in major journals that rely on their readers to register and pay for access. If publications used NFTs for the content they publish, thereby owning the content digitally, that content would be accessed, read, and referenced via a cryptocurrency “micro-royalty.”

More broadly, HCPs often access information online via trusted sources (for example, networks, societies, and congresses). In a Web3 world, these “middlemen” would need to engage with their customers differently by breaking down the silos and firewalls between them, sharing in a meaningful way, and considering new business models to generate income.

The impact on healthcare communications will not be immediate nor easily achieved in a hugely regulated market. However, technology is moving in a new direction quickly, affecting customer expectations and opening up opportunities for further transparency. We might not have all the answers today, but it is clear that Web3 is going to impact healthcare and we should start to consider how to leverage this space effectively and connect with a wider audience with fewer barriers to engagement.

Watch to hear more of our insights from CES 2022.