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Continued push for latest technology in biopharma will advance collection of patient data.
By unbundling technology infrastructure and governance (through a protocol layer like blockchain), Web3 promises to usher in a shift away from tech monopolies and a winner-takes-all competitive landscape. I expect these developments to fuel innovation and efficiency in data sharing across industries, including healthcare. However, impediments to data sharing in healthcare remain stubbornly in place, hindering meaningful innovation today.
That said, it’s worth considering what Web3 can offer all players in the healthcare industry and exploring how close we are to seeing the full benefits of Web3-powered healthcare data decentralization. For biopharma companies, the rise of Web3 can help them gain more granular insights into patient journeys and physician promotional needs and advance their ongoing efforts to become more patient-centric.
In the Web1 era, users only interacted with data (e.g., electronic health records). Interaction with other users came later, during the Web2 era. Platforms like Facebook and, in the healthcare space, Zocdoc, facilitated user-to-user engagement in the Web2 era. However, Web2 was a winner-takes-all era. The innovators of Web2 controlled the physical and technology infrastructures and set the rules (i.e., governance). Of course, many winners in Web2 created disruptive products that meaningfully improved the customer experience (think Uber for transportation or Amazon for shopping), so consumers and service providers were willing to play by the governance rules of the Web2 era behemoths.
The Web3 era has ushered in an unbundling of both infrastructure and governance via blockchain, which enables more opportunity for innovation and customization (e.g., embedding “if/then” rules for each transaction within blockchain). The end result of this decentralization and customization is more user control over each transaction, which can facilitate downstream technology innovation.
What does all this mean for healthcare? Simply put, Web3 can provide the infrastructure through which patients can provide access to their health data to a wide array of stakeholders (e.g., physicians) and third-party apps. These third-party apps and stakeholders would no longer be at the mercy of large monopolies to access patient data. They will be now able to leverage patient data directly to devise convenient and engaging ways for patients to access and pull insights from their health data.
This, of course, is very different from what happens today. Today, patient data is housed in EHR systems such as Cerner and Epic. Seamless data exchange is the federal government’s goal. But, as I’ve written, it is far from the reality today. As a result, third-party apps and many healthcare professionals are often forced to operate with limited insight into a patient’s full medical history. This limited access to patient data holds back the usefulness of health apps. Additionally, in a clinical setting, this lack of access can lead to unnecessary tests, inefficient treatment, and higher costs.
A blockchain-enabled health data system is perhaps our only hope. It will empower patients and support physicians’ treatment efforts. I am bullish about the future. After all, blockchain technology is fast maturing and app capabilities are already mature (just look at your smartphone home screen). We just need to piece together the only missing link: data.
With widespread data sharing across the healthcare system, EHR players like Cerner and Epic (which still operate in a Web2 world) will no longer have a stranglehold on patient data. Patients will be able to manage access to their health data using the blockchain. Granting these permissions will unleash innovation via third-party app developers. With access to large sets of patient data, app developers will be able to create new and innovative ways for patients and providers to access and transfer data and pull health insights from data. Instead of being limited to the existing EHR apps, patients and providers would be able to access, analyze, and transfer patient data via more innovative and user-friendly interfaces. In short, unleash the data, and Web3 will improve patient centricity across the healthcare system.
There will be many other benefits, too. For example, Web3 could disrupt the health insurance industry through decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). In a health insurance DAO, patients would own the insurance pool themselves, which could decrease premiums. Over time, patients may also be able to remove many payer “toll gates” (e.g., prior authorization, copays, etc.) and capture the full benefits of pharma rebates, which are currently disproportionately captured by payers via their pharmacy benefit managers. All these developments would more closely align pharma companies with patients and help the former become more patient-centric in their commercial efforts.
Biopharma companies must put themselves in position to capitalize as Web3 matures and its impact is more fully realized across healthcare. Biopharma commercial teams already leverage anonymized patient-level data to uncover commercial insights. This is an important start. At the same time, companies must also seek to continually enhance their data management infrastructures to ensure these systems can seamlessly intake new data sources and large datasets. Alongside these data management efforts, biopharma companies should continue to push toward the cutting edge of analytics (all the buzzwords, like machine learning and artificial intelligence, apply here). Sophisticated analytics capabilities will keep companies responsive to shifts in physician and patient needs.
Biopharma companies should propel forward the advancement of Web3 in the healthcare industry by putting in place key building blocks with an eye toward creating a more patient-centric healthcare system. By doing so, they will ensure they are ready to thrive in a fully Web3-enabled world.
Rohit Gupta, vice president of analytics strategy and transformation, Beghou Consulting