data exchange

Digital Health Coalition Newsletter – August 2018

Digital Health Coalition Newsletter – August 2018



This month we are taking a look at Blockchain and its likely (and unlikely) applications for the pharma industry.  Where pharma marketing is concerned, you will see that most experts agree possible applications may be years away.  Our goal here is to provide baseline insights that will allow you to be conversant on blockchain now and consider implications for the future. 

So, what is Blockchain? 

While most people hear “Blockchain” and think “Bitcoin”, the overarching principle is a decentralized, distributed and immutable record of digital events that is recorded and shared peer-to-peer between different parties without an intermediary (networked database systems). Some characteristics of a blockchain: 

  • digital information is instantaneously distributed to all but not copied,
  • exists as a shared — and continually reconciled — multiple location database
  • data written once, after which, read only
  • network of user-controlled computers that run independently of each other
  • All transactions are recorded on the blockchain (in a universal database, called a ledger) and are visible to anyone and everyone 
  • reduction in latency, more efficient data transfer, and greater overall resilience 

So, by storing blocks of information that are identical across its network, the blockchain cannot be controlled by any single entity, and has no single point of failure, which makes it virtually invulnerable to hack attacks or other outages.
That boils down to a faster, more accessible and more accurate data exchange. 

*Source: HealthVerity 

With that basic framework, we turn to the pharma industry.  Experts are beginning to dream about the applications of this shared and safer data exchange.  However, most of the possibilities currently are not within (pharma) marketing. 
As DHC Advisor Dale Cooke points out, “blockchain has become such a buzz word … I’m not sure, however, that there’s anything worth saying about its “use” in pharma marketing. I haven’t heard of any proposed applications, and I think there are good reasons to think that conceptually it’s not a good fit for our industry…Theoretically, the chain is MUCH stronger than each individual entry, and also much stronger than any type of protection for the traditional electronic file… Now, think about pharma. We’re dealing with people’s most personal information. Would you be willing to let your personal information be stored in such a way that no one knows where all of it is? Would you be willing to let each individual piece of your information be stored in a different database? Wouldn’t you want each link in that chain to be secured in some way to make sure that people couldn’t get ANY of your information? But the second you start putting requirements on the links in the chain, you’re no longer dealing with block chain. You’ve created something different. By definition, someone has to create a certification standard that the individual links reach, and that means someone else (or perhaps the same person) has to certify each link as having met the standards. And THAT means, someone has to know where each link in the chain is. And THAT means you’re no longer dealing with a block chain because you just violated the second essential feature of a block chain… So, I really don’t see how block chain can ever be used for pharma marketing.”
So apart from pharma marketing, broader areas where blockchain has potential application in healthcare and pharma, specially, include:

Manufacturing Applications will allow pharma cos to have a better handle on inventory management and even the supply chain itself.   Using blockchain to create seamless end-to-end tracking would eliminate the need and cost of the many third-parties currently involved in pill creation, storage, and delivery to patient at the pharmacy.  There are safety implications here as well, since tracking compounds means knowing exactly what active ingredients were used where  – leading to a reduction in the risk of death due to errors in manufacturing.  Following the application through, blockchain would allow pharma companies to find and remove any batches needing recall much more quickly.  In the same way, blockchain’s ability to have an exactly accurate record of where medications are would allow for quicker redistribution to areas with critical need.

Clinical Trial Applications will allow for safer and more accurate patient trials.  The blockchain’s ledger will allow patients and clinicians to share best trial management practices and data results with all involved parties.  Smart contracts on the blockchain provide patients with great transparency and traceability during the selection process. This would mean that as soon as the a patient enrolls in a trial, the data becomes aggregated and available in realtime to involved parties. Blockchain will prevent inaccurate study results – being able to identify false positive/negative data. 

Electronic Health Records present perhaps the lowest hanging fruit when thinking about applicability of the blockchain in healthcare, and a number of startups are already underway to capitalize on this ripe opportunity. The first of these blockchain healthcare companies, Patientory, has been working on putting electronic health records (EHRs) on a blockchain for better security. They are creating a completely distributed universe of unhackable, real-time, interoperable patient data adding customers, analytics, APIs, EHRs . Patientory offers more than just cyber security, it also offers a complete population health management solution whereby the platform itself is distributed among patients, making it impossible to leak data and solves for the estimated $2 trillion in cybersecurity damage predicted by 2019. To read more about their vision as well as stay abreast of the evolving landscape, we suggest you click here.

Blockchain-powered Programmatic Advertising (in mobile)According to Johannes Heinze, managing director, EMEA at AppLovin, there are already a few early entrants that are finding ways to create and incentivize cryptocurrency-based programmatic ad markets.The underlying technology of the blockchain consists of a distributed database constructed of data blocks that contain timestamps and link to a previous block, making it an ideal technology on which to build and run a P2P system for transactions and exchange, like a programmatic ad market. These are market-shaping deviations from the way traditional centralized platforms work and monetize. You can read his full perspective on why the timing might be right and early indications are promising here.

For visual learners, in pharma blockchain can look like this: 

*Source: HealthVerity 

Conversations with additional DHC Advisory Board members confirm that while there aforementioned opportunities for commercialization and HIT are near term, the applications within marketing are a bit less immediate.  

Personally, I think blockchain is going to play a big and important role in healthcare within the next year or two, especially considering GDPR coming into effect recently and future privacy regulations. However, blockchain is probably going to be more important from an HIT and privacy perspective rather than a “traditional marketing” role, just as data privacy and security often tends to be under the purview of operations and IT. 
Having said that, anyone who works on initiatives that collect personal data should at least understand the importance and applicability of blockchain for securing and regulating the usage of data they collect. And as we move into a world where patient empowerment includes ownership of their own personal data (including those collected by third parties), blockchain will start to play a bigger role in giving patients and other stakeholders more control over the usage of the data that they contribute and, potentially, the value that they want assigned to it.
” – Shwen Gwee, DHC Advisory Board

Tom Hespos, CEO of Underscore Marketing, offered his thoughts in the article featured below.  He explains how blockchain’s impact on the digital media buying process is not something we will see soon, sharing “we probably have some time before blockchain has a major impact on digital media buying. Its benefits will likely be felt sooner in the areas of patient medical records and such. If you oversee digital advertising, though, the tech is in its infancy when it comes to solving real problems in the digital ad supply chain. For now, put your mind at ease – you’ll see it in other parts of the healthcare sector before you see it in action in digital advertising.”

David Davidovic, founder of PathForward and member of the DHC Advisory Board, who sees the potential for applications in the future, had this to say: “There are a few pervasive and persistent myths about blockchain that are slowly getting chipped away.  First, the association with blockchain with alternative (or crypto) currencies such as bitcoin.  Yes, that is the most recognized application, but there are many many other places where a “distributed ledger” can be applied with important benefits.  Second, the belief, especially pervasive across pharma, that the blockchain is mainly for supply chain and clinical trial applications; the reality is that there are commercial applications galore and it’s just a matter of applying where it makes most sense at the right time. An early example is across market access activities, including “smart contracting” where self-executing contracts check the parameters, conditions, rules, compliance, etc. of the transaction.  As everyone becomes more and more interested in “value contracting”, the blockchain will be a critical component of success.  Similarly in advertising or any media acquisition transaction where such requirements exist; marketing teams, ad agencies, media channels, all will find application. Finally, in messaging itself; as concerns over privacy and security grow, there are opportunities to use these tools/techniques to increase the assurance of privacy in transactions and interactions such as those of PSPs (patient support services).”

The DHC will continue to track the adoption of blockchain technology within the digital health space, and update our readers as significant developments occur.  For now, we recommend developing a working knowledge of the topic.


…Digital media geeks like me fantasize about automated media buying platforms that clear media purchases and release payment via smart contracts. That is, if purchased media packages met certain criteria for ad viewability, audience qualification or engagement, blockchain tech would automatically release payment to ad sellers. That could bring unprecedented efficiency to digital media buying. However, there’s one small problem: blockchain tech can’t keep up with digital media’s pace of transactions, if Real-Time Bidding is to be considered on an impression-by-impression basis. Put another way, our ad buys across premium health sites might generate thousands of transactions per second, but blockchain tech is limited to only a dozen or so per second. If applied as a trust engine for programmatic ad buys, currently, it just can’t keep up. …(read full article here)

From Intouch Solutions:  WTF Is Blockchain and Why Should You Care?

You may have heard the digital-tech term “blockchain” lately – but chances are, you’re not quite sure what it is. The hype is everywhere, with headlines like NPR’s “Blockchain Could Be a Force for Good, But First You Have To Understand It,” and McKinsey’s “How Blockchains Could Change the World.” But what IS blockchain – and why should you care? We’re here to boil it down for you. (read full article here)



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Part 1 – Data, Analytics, and ROI (20 Minutes)
Part 2 – Brand Safety, Viewability, and Fraud (30 minutes)