Are Cryptocurrencies Poised to Revolutionize Pharmacy and Health Care?

DECEMBER 14, 2017

I recently spoke with Beth Breeden, an associate professor at Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy in Nashville, Tennessee, and the director of the Master of Science in Healthcare Informatics and Resident Programming Director for the Informatics Residency, about the emergence of bitcoin, Healthcoin, and other cryptocurrencies. These technologies could revolutionize the health care industry and provide opportunities for pharmacists to seize new opportunities and find more rewarding work.
 
A crytpocurrency is not reliant on any government or institution. The US dollar has value because it is based on the trust of the government.
 
Bitcoin has value because it is outside the institutions that control our money: the banks and the government. It can be used anywhere, with anyone else who uses bitcoin.

Question: How did you get involved with bitcoin?
Answer: I got involved 2 years ago. We incorporated blockchain into our curricular offerings, into our research, and into our master’s program. We have students that complete their capstone projects in this space.
 
We also have a collaboration in place with a local blockchain company called Hashed Health.
 
Q: What does bitcoin do?
A: Bitcoin was first invented to solve 2 things. The first is to allow people to exchange currency without a third party, such as a bank or credit card.
 
It also had to prevent double spending, because cryptocurrency is reflected in a series of letters and numbers unique to each bitcoin. We had to make sure I didn’t send the same series of letters and numbers to you and then try to send it to someone else. Once I send it to you, that transaction is logged on the blockchain, which is the platform that all these transactions occur on.
 
Once they are on the blockchain, they cannot be changed. It’s a consensus model of people who approve that transaction to say, “Beth paid Alex 1 bitcoin for his new book.”
 
Q: I would love that. That is about $10,000.
A: Bitcoin has reached a new high of $10,000 per coin or per unit for the first time.
 
That’s what makes cryptocurrency really interesting. [It has] value, and we can use [it] to purchase items or to send money internationally and locally.
 
Q: In the United States, we trust our government. If you were to explain the concept of bitcoin to someone in Argentina, they would be on fire for this because they cannot trust banks to hold their money.
A: Right. Bitcoin’s early history involved a lot of nefarious activity like narcotics because it was difficult to trace. It’s similar to the internet. People do great things with the internet, and people do harmful things as well.
 
Bitcoin gives anyone with internet access the opportunity to participate in commerce. It’s exciting that we can benefit from having our health data on the blockchain.
 
Q: We have touched on the fact that blockchain is the platform on which bitcoin stands.
The way I explain it is blockchain is the dirt through which bitcoin grows.
A: Think about a distributed ledger where every transaction was written in a book as a line item. Whoever had that ledger could review the transactions. That ledger kept up with all the transactions.
 
Now think about that ledger being distributed. That’s the whole idea behind blockchain. It’s a digital ledger where transactions are recorded chronologically. Anyone who has access to the blockchain can see those transactions.
 
Q: So, we have this technology that can do really some amazing things, and you hinted at this with Hashed Health, a blockchain health care provider of data management, correct?
A: Hashed Health is doing wonderful things around provider identity. They have partnered with the state of Illinois to put all providers on the blockchain with their credentials.

Think about a provider who graduated from medical school 40 years ago. If the provider goes to a new facility and has to become credentialed, how do they offer that voice of truth that says, “Yes, they completed the degree and the residency?” Hashed Health has put all that provider credentialing on the blockchain.
 
Q: I am sure you saw the introduction of a marijuana altcoin. I understand that one because it is illegal to operate a marijuana business, and you cannot own a bank account if you own a marijuana business. I think a lot of people get confused talking about currency and also talking about a company that is trying to make information readily available for health care practitioners. How do the 2 connect?
A: Imagine that a website incentivizes actions that prevent a person from developing diabetes. They’ll allow patients to put their biomarkers on the blockchain.
 
In this example, imagine you have an A1C that is elevated above 7, but you exercise and eat properly and take your medications, which improves your biomarkers. The blockchain can calculate improvement, and the company can incentivize it with a cryptocoin that will allow you to purchase things. That’s how the 2 are related.
 
That’s how the concept of Healthcoin works. For example, with [prescription delivery service] ScriptDrop, Healthcoin may allow you to pay down a co-pay for your medication.
 
Does that make sense?
 
Q: It makes sense, but I think there are many discussions to be had about the effects. Where do you think this will go, say, 18 years from now?
A: The opportunities are amazingly endless. This technology has potential we can’t even recognize. They are disruptive technologies, something occurring more rapidly than you would usually see.
 
The meteoric rise in the value of bitcoin runs counter to what you would normally see in investment valuations. If you watch your bitcoin grow, you may see an increase of several hundred percent. That’s unbelievable when you consider that increasing 10% or 12% is usually recognized as a banner year. If there’s any caveat to this, there’s large risk and large potential for reward.
 
I would focus on the health care sector. To see patients control their data and have a full view of their health care picture is really amazing.
 
I think it’s going to offer results beyond what we’ve seen in the history of medicine.
 
Q: If people want to learn more about this or get involved, where should they go?
A: There are a lot of great resources for blockchain. TED Talks and HashedHealth.com have great resources.
 
It’s going to be foundational to many sectors in the future. In the financial sector, there have been multiple patents submitted around blockchain. Jump in right now. Learn as much as you can.
 
It’s a fascinating subject and you have the potential to advance rapidly, particularly as pharmacists. Be part of the early adoption crew.
 
Blockchain is an emerging technology that will impact sectors far beyond pharmacy. As a result, knowledge of blockchain will create vast opportunities for those who invest the time to learn more about it.
 
 
Subscribe to The Happy PharmD to download the full interview this full interview and learn more about how to create opportunities for rewarding work. Whether one is seeking opportunities within pharmacy that will create financial freedom or new opportunities in a different industry altogether, fulfillment is within reach.
 



Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.
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