Blockchain presents an opportunity to elevate healthcare into the digital age – Wernhard Berger, Grapevine World

Wernhard Berger

Wernhard Berger is Chief Business Development Officer of Grapevine World. He has held multiple roles at start-ups, consultancies and multinational corporations in Vienna, London and Silicon Valley. Before his role at Grapevine World, he led business development and go-to-market for Cisco’s Connected Health Interoperability Platform and Medical Data Exchange Solution, coordinating sales, marketing and product management activities across Europe and the US. He was recently a speaker at Healthcare Unblocked 2018 in London.

The company has an unusual name – Grapevine World – can you explain what it means? 

Grapevine World comes from the idea of us wanting to connect up all the different parts of the healthcare industry. Our partner company – Tiani Spirit – was created to connect and break data barriers. So you can think of our platform like a vine that grows and spreads internationally connecting patients, doctors, researchers and other third parties and allowing all of them to access and utilise healthcare data. Our partner company has been doing this for over a decade using Integrating the Health Enterprise (IHE) standards before we realised that blockchain could potentially enrich what we were doing even further.

What is different about managing healthcare data in this new type of world?

Thanks to the immutability of blockchain and its ability to create a single, trusted source of the truth, our blockchain-based platform will allow users to have a kind of audit trail or backbone for their data. You can track and trace what is happening to your information with certainty and have confidence that it is secure and tamper proof. The health data itself never touches the blockchain. For data exchange, we use the market-proven IHE methodology. That means that the data is stored where it is originated and the patient can grant and revoke access to it according to their preferences.

How come you can’t just use a normal database for this – why do you need blockchain?

There are 3 big, inter-related reasons which drove us to experiment with using blockchain. 

1. Data Provenance – As I explained just now, blockchain is very well positioned to address the current issues we have around provenance of healthcare data due to its immutability and the ability to have a clear view of what has been done with the data, by whom and when.

2. Tokenisation – Related to the above issue of data provenance are the opportunities opened up by tokenisation. Once you have access to data and the ability to give very specific types of consent about who can access which parts of your data, you can generate all kinds of incentives by using digital tokens to help people perhaps to want to have healthier lifestyles and behaviours as well as helping people to make money from their data that could then be ploughed back into paying for other healthcare services.

3. Smart Contracts – Being able to code specific sets of instructions to execute automatically according to a set of particular conditions means we can tremendously simplify some of the complex systems we have in healthcare today. Not only do we have a need for multiple actors to be in touch with one another – patients, doctors, tech vendors, governments/public sector bodies, insurers, regulators – but also there are numerous issues of regulatory compliance in an industry like healthcare. And we will need to do this internationally, across the globe, across borders where regulations and financial reimbursement mechanisms may work differently in different places. We can use smart contracts as a means of eliminating a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy and to streamline vast amounts of time-consuming processes that we use today to manage data and monitor activities within healthcare systems.

How will you drive individual user adoption of your platform?

I believe individual users will be driven by the desire to access and control their own healthcare data. Our company is very experienced in this field, however, and for us right now the concept of fully distributed personal ownership of healthcare data seems a bit too utopian. There are so many powerful stakeholders in the system – whether it is governments or doctors or others who won’t necessarily want to give away access to data that was previously put in their hands. What Grapevine will provide will be a holistic overview of your data all in one portal. You will have a single source of truth for your healthcare data and you will be able to give consent to people you trust under very specific circumstances. For example, you may trust your GP or family doctor and be willing to share with them all of your healthcare information but you may not always want to give access to more sensitive data such as mental health data or information about sexually transmitted diseases, which could be kept private from certain parties. 

Currently we see user adoption of our platform being largely driven by partnerships with trusted providers who have a large base of existing customers. Later on, as the market develops, there will be more use cases and at that point adoption will be more driven by demand for use of these services. We can think of two sides of the coin. Now we are looking at giving people access to and control of their data and allowing them to share it and to acquire value from it. But there is also the opportunity to use the token to access services not available elsewhere. Think of being abroad, for example, in a remote location but still being able to access telemedicine services offered by world-leading specialists and being able to pay for it directly and frictionlessly using the tokens you have already built up by using our system.

There are a number of companies out there competing to offer healthcare data services using blockchain or Distributed Ledger Technology, how is Grapevine different?

There are two main differences. The first is our long track record and experience of working on standardised interoperability. Other blockchain providers may simply be creating new data silos – because you may have to be part of their system to access the data – whereas we are trying to build seamless interoperability with other systems as a core part of what we have always done. The other part is the fact that there are over 300 million patients already using IHE compliant systems which gives us a great head start.

What stage do you think the market is at for blockchain in healthcare?

We are still in the really early stages but many organisations have now started taking blockchain seriously and begun properly testing out ideas. I was actually surprised to see a recent study – I think by PWC – which said that 50% of healthcare providers were experimenting with blockchain, as this was much higher than I would have expected. We are getting some serious traction but we are still very far from mass market adoption. A lot of the current experimentation will only be validated by trying it out in the real world. I think the prospects for tokenisation are even further away. We need to begin by demonstrating value for blockchain in very specific use cases like clinical trials and data provenance, for example, which is actively gathering pace. 

What’s next for Grapevine World over the next 12 months?

We’d like to be at the forefront of this growing movement which is gathering real-world results and case studies that can push the whole blockchain in healthcare industry forward. If we can demonstrate real insights and move from proof of value to larger-scale production, things will advance quite rapidly. For us, blockchain is only one part of our toolset and we are currently part of a small subset of early adopters but we hope and expect to see that group expanding greatly over the next year.

And how did you first get interested in blockchain yourself?

Like many people I became intrigued when the real mainstream hype around cryptocurrencies started a couple of years ago but for me the interest is more outside of the pure cryptocurrency space, in the application of blockchain to solving business problems.  Blockchain presents a real opportunity to elevate healthcare into the digital age and propose a more efficient solution to existing business problems as well as to offer new services that we can only dream of today.

You can find out more about Grapevine World at their website or follow them on Twitter and Telegram.

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