The revolution has arrived. Believe it or not, we are living in a world where artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and stem cell therapies are no longer concepts of science fiction, but are realities of our everyday life. While the development of these things may appear to be in their infancy, it’s undoubtedly true that they each hold a unique opportunity for science to unlock cures to diseases like ALS, Sickle Cell disease, Alzheimer’s and Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy.
What is equally true however, is despite the fact that these opportunities are on the horizon, on a global scale there are still significant barriers to accessing clinical trials and quality medical care.
So how do we address this?
Well, according to a company called Stem Cell Project – we need to get creative.
This new Japan-based company set out to create the blockchain-enabled Virtual Clinic, fully equipped with AI technology, diagnostic tools, and its own native currency, the Stem Cell Coin.
Issues with Modern Healthcare
Modern healthcare has developed rapidly in the past few decades, but is not without its drawbacks. For many people there’s a degree of difficulty in gaining access to qualified specialists. When you consider basic factors like distance and skill shortage, or larger issues like the lack of universal healthcare, it means the average person is unable to afford the high cost of preventative medical treatments, leading to more than 45,000 deaths per year in the United States alone.
In many first-world countries, birth rates have declined over the decades whilst the general population has continued to age. Not only has this has increased the need for specialists in fields treating diseases of aging, like Cancer and Alzheimer’s, but it also means we need to accelerate our efforts to keep up with the growing population.
Using Blockchain to Access Health Records
While many hear the word blockchain and think of cryptocurrencies, it also allows for an ultra-secure means by which patients can interact with healthcare professionals without worrying if malicious third-parties can access their most sensitive personal data. It is for this reason that Stem Cell Project decided to use the groundbreaking technology in their Virtual Clinic.
“Patients are increasingly aware of how their data is being used and who is allowed to access it,” explained Stem Cell Project’s founder Shuji Yamaguchi in a news release. “We therefore wanted to find a solution that was highly secure. Having a patient’s trust is, in many ways, the first step to mass adoption for Stem Cell Coin.”
Beyond that, the platform also ensures patients have access to a decentralized and unchangeable health record. Something which to date has never been fully implemented by a large-scale healthcare organization such as the one backing Stem Cell Project.
Opening the Path to Healthcare Equality
As Stem Cell Coin’s vision continues to be rolled out, a number of complementary applications will also be developed to support the Virtual Clinic. Among these, digital initiatives such as pathological and diagnostic imaging systems have the potential to further build upon the notion of a decentralized, universally-accessible healthcare ecosystem. Moreover, the ability to pay for stem cell treatment via Stem Cell Coin will allow people to pay and travel for therapy regardless of whether their country exerts strict capital controls. The best example of this is China, where even its wealthy citizens are unable to travel to places like the United States of America and Europe for treatment, as the current cost for stem cell therapy ($10,000 – $50,000) exceeds the limits imposed by their government on how much Yuan can be taken abroad.
Counterfeit drugs and treatments could become easier to spot:
Based on reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), the value of the counterfeit drug market is $200 billion annually. In fact, they estimate 80% of the counterfeit drugs that are consumed in the United States come from overseas. Furthermore – they believe that 16% of counterfeit drugs contain the wrong ingredients, and 17% contain the wrong levels of necessarily ingredients. Not only does this undermine the research and scientists, who are actively looking for treatments by following an established protocol, but the financial burden families and patients are enduring to have access to these drugs is considerably high – especially given that WHO reports that 30% of the counterfeit drugs that are available don’t contain any active ingredients whatsoever. A blockchain-based system would ensure a chain-of-custody log, tracking each step of the supply chain at the individual drug/product level.
Results from clinical trials could become more transparent:
It is estimated that 50% of clinical trials go unreported, and investigators often fail to share their study results. This has created crucial safety issues for patients and knowledge gaps for healthcare stakeholders and health policymakers. Some say, blockchain-enabled, time-stamped immutable records of clinical trials, protocols and results could address the issues of fraudulent outcome reporting, data snooping and selective reporting, thereby reducing the incidence of fraud and error in clinical trial records. Furthermore, blockchain-based systems could help drive unprecedented collaboration between participants and researchers for innovative research projects.
As new projects such as Stem Cell Coin are able to increase access to regenerative medicine, not only will distance or income cease to determine health outcomes, but we might even be able to address other issues plaguing the healthcare industry.