Maybe you’ve heard about the boom in art sales that is occurring in the Non-Fungible Token (NFT) world. The first three quarters of 2021 have seen $3.5bn in transactions according to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2021. I know that the digital health executives amongst us probably think this is so 2017 when “only” $5bn in deals went into their space, but we’re talking about art investment here.

Actually… what we’re really talking about is the value of the NFT itself. If you’re asking what in the hell does NFT mean, I’d say, “Who cares?” What’s important is that it’s a way to guarantee (digitally) that something tangible is unique by assigning a way to authenticate its 1-of-1 status (a.k.a. the “token”). It also is a way to tell the world definitively who owns a specific asset.

This kind of guarantee is becoming extremely valuable. Ask the NBA. Ask Christie’s. Ask SuperRare. Even ask Nike. They just acquired RTFKT, which is a community of creatives that builds one-of-a-kind experiences and virtual products (as in shoes). The path for commerce is being laid as part of the vision for Web3 by these types of partnerships.

Looking deeper into healthcare, NFTs are already being used to track blood from the point of donation forward. More importantly, this means blood can be traced backwards to the point of origination when needed. Big internet data companies are working with hospitals to develop insights using patient records in an industry that has struggled with good ID management and data security for decades. How this helps with population-level insights, new treatments and consumer experiences is to be determined in the coming years. It’s likely this will be a better foundation to launch the next things compared to what we had five years ago, as the environmental impact of this kind of technology is also lessening.

So… good for them, right? It could be good for you, too. I think it’s the ID management component to this that’s important for insurers & service model distributors/providers to be thinking through. This is where the decentralization promise of blockchain has a chance to really shine.

Imagine a world where a consumer’s healthcare data can be accessed through a personalized digital wallet with these secure event tokens attached (likely through API calls) that can uniquely be verified. Individuals are going to be generating IoT information from their wearables, payment data from their healthcare & consumer spending cards, enrollment data when they select their plans, health data from their labs, event data from their physical and virtual healthcare appointments, genetic data, metabolic/nutrition data, pharmacy data, wellness rewards and more not being thought about here. 

While just about every stakeholder in healthcare talks about “putting the consumer at the center” of whatever it is they do, the massively siloed data structures that these entities protect as part of legacy entrenchment strategies make that statement all talk. Pulling the data out of these silos, at the request of a consumer, and into a customizable & secure digital wallet seems to be one way forward to realize a foundation for consumer centricity. The first step to realizing this is effective ID management, and I think the work has been done over the last five years to get us accelerating in that direction. We’re at the “now what” stage.

So… imagine a wallet that is an app that sits on a smartphone or tablet. Yes, there’s nothing new about this, but 85% of Americans own a smartphone in 2021 according to Pew Research. Who builds this connected app is the fun question for P&L builders & investors to answer as part of their strategies. What this app connects with is another set of questions. 

But… a use case might include question-less insurance plan purchasing navigation. There would be no need to ask if you’re a smoker, what’s your gender, how many times did you visit the doctor last year, what prescriptions do you need covered, etc. All of this could be tokenized from different sources and presented to a distribution platform as a frictionless way to evaluate and buy health solutions. Oh, and when you decide to buy, the personal information token in the wallet will make the enrollment process seamless, too.

Another use case might be getting the most out of a telehealth or chat-based appointment. Data in the wallet could be permissioned by the consumer for use to provide the service provider or AI a better picture of current health before making a diagnosis. That diagnosis could then be sent back as an event token that is now part of the patient history for that consumer (& is connected outside the walls of a siloed provider EHR for information mobility).

Again, these ideas aren’t new—as a consumer health record has been tried before. Still, I get the feeling that as we move closer to Web3 capabilities, this is ripe for another run.

There are seemingly endless use cases in areas like digital therapeutics matching and genetic pharmacology that could be applied.

The punchline is this digital wallet could be tied to a medical ID number that the consumer is assigned and owns. This number is really a wallet that is protected by a distributed network of rules and token ledgers that connect to a very wide range of healthcare stakeholders. This could be an insurance card. It could also be a government-assigned number—much like a Social Security Card. Imagine a physical ID card that has a secure tag embedded in it that is tapped on a smartphone or tablet, combined with a fingerprint impression, that opens access to this healthcare wallet.

Imagine emergency service responders being able to use the card to pull up life-saving information during a moment of need. Think about how consumer friendly it would be to leverage this wallet to better navigate the system that now feels customized versus complicated. 

The coming promise of Web3 for healthcare is the ability for stakeholders to leverage huge amounts of data to hone their service models and population insights capabilities. It’s the way artificial intelligence will use this data to construct new models to insure risk and to recommend services and to improve outcomes that is new and full of promise. It’s the ID management that blockchain provides to verify and protect the sources of data to allow for a decentralized flow of information to consumers and stakeholders. 

Letting the consumers that want to control how their data flows through the healthcare system is a key capability to be implemented—especially given futurists are seeing an environment where individuals might be less tolerant of freely flowing information between huge organizations without their permission.

Looking beyond the explosive growth in the NFT art world, with digital wallets being built to house these unique collections, there is a very promising set of years ahead as new use cases are built to meet the needs of the healthcare & insurance systems. Do you have a strategy around these ideas, and how will those strategies define your organization’s role in healthcare in the years to come? One thing is clear, especially for insurers and hospital systems to ponder, is it’s time for these entities to decide if their true customer is each other or is it the consumer?