The Korea Herald is publishing a series of articles highlighting South Korea’s promising startups in the emerging sectors of digital health care and next-generation medical devices. This is the 13th installment. - Ed.
Seeking to overturn the traditional hospital-led medical recordkeeping system, a South Korean technology startup has set out to create a new patient-centered health database platform using blockchain technology.
Medical recordkeeping has long operated as a closed system, with individual medical institutions possessing primary stewardship over patients’ medical records. Private medical data exchanges are prohibited, and a patient’s data usually remains scattered at various hospitals and clinics.
However, Seoul-based MediBloc
is working to upturn this situation by placing patients, instead of medical service providers, at the center of the personal health record management paradigm.
“Our vision is to build a new electronic health data platform in which the patient, rather than hospitals, owns his or her own medical records,” MediBloc co-founders Kho Woo-kyun and Lee Eun-sol told The Korea Herald in a recent interview in Seoul. “And by basing the platform on blockchain, we can ensure that the records kept by patients remain authentic at all times.”
MediBloc was formed this year by Kho, a former dentist and software engineer at Samsung Electronics, and Lee, a certified medical doctor in radiology and biomedical informatics. At age 33, the two doctor-turned-entrepreneurs joined hands to capitalize on fresh opportunities to improve the current medical ecosystem using digital technologies.
MediBloc co-founders Kho Woo-kyun (left) and Lee Eun-sol (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Personal medical records have always been stored and managed by hospitals, under strict privacy regulations prohibiting the movement of private health records. While that ensures data protection, it has caused inconvenience and needless costs for patients and hospitals.
For instance, patients often have to repeat the same health examination every time they visit a new hospital, because their records do not get transferred between institutions. There is no single electronic database that holds a patient’s health record history from multiple institutions in one place.
Despite the benefits, it has been impossible for hospitals to create a shared-access database, given restrictions on a third party’s handling of personal health records.
However, such a platform can be created if the patients themselves become reliable owners and managers of their medical records.
MediBloc believes it can build this patient-centric medical record system by using blockchain -- an open, distributed ledger database that records transactions among all participants in the network.
Best known as the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, blockchain is a series of blocks that record data, labeled with hash functions and time stamps that are shared with every participant of the blockchain network.
Once new data is saved on a blockchain, it cannot be edited, deleted, or overwritten, therefore securing data and eliminating centralized points that are targeted by cyberattacks. When applied to health data-keeping, it means records are kept in their original state at all times.
After a doctor inputs a patient’s medical data into the blockchain-based database, it cannot be changed without being immediately detected. There is also no central authority -- the hospital -- that can potentially mishandle or lose patients’ personal medical records.
“Once a block is made, it is shared with everybody in the network and cannot be deleted or tampered with. Given this, a blockchain-based platform guarantees that medical records remain forever authentic and secure,” Lee explained.
MediBloc is hoping to deploy this new platform in Korea by late 2018. Doctors will be able to input a consenting patient’s medical data -- including diagnostics results such as blood test results, medical imaging data like X-rays, CTs and MRIs and genetic data -- into MediBloc’s blockchain system.
“From a patient’s perspective, they will be able to manage all of their medical data through their mobile device, as well as receive ‘continuous’ treatment at any medical institution,” Koh said. “Hospitals will benefit by promising patients convenient access to their medical records.”
To encourage users to join its platform, MediBloc is planning to apply a reward system based on its cryptocurrency “Meditoken.” Every time a doctor inputs a patient’s data on MediBloc’s platform, both the doctor and patients will be compensated with points that can be converted into Meditokens.
Patients will be able to use Meditoken like cash to pay hospital bills or purchase diverse digital health care services, while research institutions and interested companies would be able to purchase medical records directly from patients by paying them through Meditoken.
Once enough users get on board MediBloc’s platform, an active “medical data trading” ecosystem will take root, Koh said, noting however that it will take several years before the system reaches this stage.
The startup's goal is to first get this patient-centered recordkeeping system to successfully operate in Korea, and later expand to other markets like China, Southeast Asia and the US.
As of now, MediBloc is raising funds for its platform through an initial coin offering, a new fundraising mechanism in which new projects sell their underlying crypto-tokens to interested investors in exchange for existing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether.
“An ICO is an effective fundraising model for a platform like ours. Our investors naturally become active users and promoters of our platform, because the value of their Meditoken will rise in tandem with the platform’s growth,” Koh said.
MediBloc is currently selling its Meditoken in exchange for only the Quantum cryptocurrency. From Nov. 27, investors will be able to purchase Meditoken in exchange for other mainstream cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin and Ether, the startup said.
By Sohn Ji-young (email@example.com