Daily life has been upended by the coronavirus. And where there is uncertainty there is fear.
Fear of who’s got the dreaded virus and who may look completely asymptomatic — and who, unwittingly, may be putting countless other people at risk.
Shane Bigelow, CEO of Vital Chain, which uses blockchain to help individuals download and control how healthcare data is used — including COVID-19 test certification — told PYMNTS in a recent interview that digital certificates can go a long way toward reopening businesses and establishing trust.
He said that in general, “you're seeing developments from myriad of sources around self-sovereign identity and the way that blockchain can be used for that."
That’s due in part to the fact that blockchain can serve as an auditable and immutable ledger to enhance data security.
Vital Chain’s other efforts include digitizing birth and death certificates.
Earlier this year, the company announced a strategic pact with Medici Ventures, the wholly owned blockchain accelerator of Overstock.com, to integrate with partners across various vital record ecosystems.
Through the use of blockchain, the company has said, processing and storing those documents becomes streamlined and more cost efficient.
For Vital Chain, Bigelow said “we didn’t set out to find a blockchain product. We set out to find a way to digitize part of a medical record and make it more useful.”
He said that one notable part of individual data that could benefit from blockchain and can be of use in the age of coronavirus (and beyond) is the medical test result. Those test results can be complex and hard to read.
As economies and businesses reopen, said Bigelow: “If you’re a retailer and you are putting someone at your front door to gauge who is coming in or out of your store and whether or not they have COVID-19, you are not going to be able to take those test results and have them be used in any material way.”
To make that data more accessible and useful, he said, the company has been connecting into several data sources that gather test results — such as LabCorp and Quest — to gather information and present it in ways that clearly certify whether individuals are able to resume normal daily life.
In terms of process as described by Vital Chain: Medical professionals administer tests for COVID-19 and certify the tests’ accuracy; individuals opt to have the test results uploaded to Vital Chain and based on the test results, Vital Chain issues a “digital certificate.” That certificate identifies COVID-19 status through a color-coded pass. That status can then be displayed on an individual’s phone via barcode.
Asked about ethical concerns that might surround such access, Bigelow noted that there are federal rules that enable consumers to gain access to their medical records.
Although the rules take effect across the span of a few years, medical companies and other healthcare entities have already been complying. And with those consumers’ consent, he said, these medical records must be supplied on demand.
In a hypothetical example, he said that a manufacturing plant can reduce anxiety on its campuses — where, presumably, the firm may already be practicing social distancing.
"If you marry that to ‘here's my test result,’ now you've reduced the fear for anyone re-entering that workplace because they feel that ‘OK, this is about as good as it's going to get,’” he said.
Photos on a corporate-issued ID can also be matched to the Vital Chain ID.
Conceivably, users can show their antibody tests to get into sporting arenas, get haircuts or gain access to goods and services at a retailer that is also using Vital Chain.
In response to questions from PYMNTS over whether the desire to return to work may spur attempts to pass along fraudulent test results, Bigelow maintained the biggest threats are “perpetrated by people that wake up with a fever and decided to go out to the public anyway.”
Then there’s the potential for “accidental fraud,” he said. For example, recent tests have shown that 1 percent of asymptomatic individuals had the coronavirus, while 4 percent of the symptomatic people had the virus.
“I'm far more concerned with the asymptomatic people because if you're symptomatic, the pretty standard rule is stay home, get better, work from home,” Bigelow maintained. “If you can't work from home, lean on the government for the support that's being provided.”
“But if you're asymptomatic,” continued Bigelow, “you don't think you have it, but you've never had a test. That 1 percent will spread this virus far more than the symptomatic people who stay home. I call it an accidental fraud. They're going out, and they're spreading it unbeknownst to even themselves.”
The drive to make businesses safer can be seen as consumer- and employer-led, not government-led — and enhancing the movement toward self-sovereign identity.
As Bigelow told PYMNTS: “This is all about giving the consumer control over their information and letting them decide how they want that information to be used. We are simply making it easier for people to control the information that's currently in paper form in the medical record.”