I've spoken before about the tremendous value inherent when we can unify all of the health data generated by and about individuals, but progress towards that goal has been painfully slow. One startup that is attempting to help us monetize our health data is US based CoverUS.
The system grants users a digital wallet that is accessible from their smartphone. This can then be populated by data from their electronic health record, wearable devices and other health trackers. This can then be shared, and indeed monetized, by the individual, whether it's with their healthcare provider, medical researchers or other sources.
“From a moral standpoint, we think people should own their healthcare data. It’s currently being brokered to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars without most of us knowing that it is happening,” the company say. “Secondly, we believe that healthcare data is most valuable when it’s in an individual’s hands because your electronic medical records and prescriptions only paint part of the picture. Nobody knows better than you how you are doing.”
The power of data
Suffice to say, they aren't the only venture attempting to do this. Last year, for instance, Verily, the life science arm of Alphabet, launched a project that aims to capture vast quantities of health data.
The venture, known as the Baseline Project, is aiming to recruit 10,000 people to participate in a multi-year study into finding predictors for heart disease and cancer. Participants will subject themselves to extensive monitoring and testing via the study watch that will record their activity levels in real-time. In addition to the readings from the watch, participants will also undergo x-rays and heart scans, and will also have their genome mapped and blood tested at regular intervals over a four year period.
“No one has done this kind of deep dive on so many individuals. This depth has never been attempted,” the team say. “It’s to enable generations to come to mine it, to ask questions, without presupposing what the questions are.”
The problem with that kind of project is that ownership of the data remains with Alphabet. This might work for a relatively small research project, but with population size work then it's imperative that the data is owned by the individual. It's a topic I've touched on in a recent post, with various reports underlining the importance of this.
“Healthcare data is one of the NHS’s most precious resources. It allows individuals to be empowered in their own care, medical professionals to improve and tailor individual treatments and the system as a whole to learn and increase its understanding of what causes disease, how it can be prevented and how it should best be treated,” a report from the Richmond Group says.
Is CoverUS the answer?
Time will tell. There's a lot of fluff around blockchain based startups so it's probably sensible to reserve judgement until they've shown themselves in the market. Their offering rests upon a cryptocurrency created by the company, called CoverCoin. Users earn the currency by sharing the data, and it's hoped they'll then be able to spend it on things that can improve their health.
The value of such cryptocurrency marketplaces is massively unproven at this stage, and it would be a shame if that side of things hampered a project that has a lot of merit.
The company believe that by rewarding people in a currency they can only redeem in healthy ways it completes a virtuous circle towards a healthier life, but the complexities and uncertainties surrounding cryptocurrencies could well turn many people off.
The idea behind the platform is a fantastic one however, so it will be interesting to see how they get on.