A non-fungible token, often simply called an NFT, is a digital asset created with blockchain technology. They got their start in the world of art. It was a way for people to buy and sell digital artwork that was guaranteed with a digital contract. Analysts are wondering whether or not NFT contracts could also be used in other markets, such as healthcare. A team of ethics researchers and law and informatics specialists at the Baylor College of Medicine recently wrote a commentary about the uses of NFTs in healthcare.
In a commentary article in the prestigious journal Science, the physicians, informatics specialists and lawyers argued that NFTs could assist patients with maintaining more control over their private health information. The digital contracts offer an opportunity for patients to permit use of their personal health information and to track who accessed it, when, how and why.
The paper’s first author, Dr. Kristin Kostick-Quenet, stated that a person’s health information is outside of their control after it gets digitized. Once the information is contained in an electronic health record, it is often shared and exchanged. Dr. Kostick-Quenet is an assistant professor at Baylor’s Center for Medical Ethics and specializes in health policy. Continuing, Dr. Kostick-Quenet explained that NFTs could be used to help an individual take back control about who can see their health information and to participate in how their health information is used.
In this era of big data, health information is essentially a currency. It functions as a commodity, and companies make big profits from it. According to Dr. Amy McGuire, who was the senior author of the commentary piece in Science, using NFTs for health data could be the perfect solution for handling the large and rapidly changing marketplace of health information. Dr. McGuire went on to say that there are a lot of social, ethical and legal considerations that healthcare providers will need to keep in mind. The complexity and popularity of cryptocurrency make this a rapidly evolving situation.
Baylor’s research team points out that security flaws are still a major concern for NFTs. Privacy is also an issue. There are also disputes over who has the intellectual property rights of the healthcare information once it is digitized. The complex nature of NFTs means that the average person might not know how to make the most of the tool’s potential. Each of the paper’s authors stated that policymakers will need to consider both the benefits and the challenges of using NFTs to upend healthcare data as it is known today.
According to Dr. Kenneth Mandl, another co-author of the paper, there are current federal regulations that give patients the right to use an app of their choice to download their own healthcare data from their providers. These regulations allow individuals to receive their own data in a format that can be analyzed, such as a .csv file. Dr. Mandl states that there is a lot more research to do into whether or not NFTs or similar technologies could be used for enabling purposeful sharing of healthcare data. Smart contracts could also play a role.