Blockchain and its Impact on Epidemiology for COVID-19
Contributed Commentary by Derek Strauss & Cydel Giraudel
May 4, 2020 | With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, epidemiologists around the world are researching and creating models on how to contain the disease. There is significant work being done to better identify potential carriers and their corresponding symptoms. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, “data is collected from 500 relevant sources daily. 43% coming from Ministries of Health, 9% Public Health Institutes, 6% WHO websites, and 30% coming from Ministry social media and related accounts.” In addition to these methods, there has been significant work researching studies and publications outlining distinct breakouts and the appropriate containment response. In Epidemiological and Clinical Aspects of COVID-19; a Narrative Review, authors utilized 8 publications from PubMed, Web of Science, and Scopus among others to gather evidence to use for better decision clinical making during a pandemic. While these are valuable sources, they were still required to implement a protocol to discuss any disagreement about the data collection to ensure the information was accurate.
Even with information from notable sources, the underlying question is whether or not the data can be trusted. With many publications, extra due diligence needs to be performed to better understand who compiled the data and how it was collected. A recent study of, “21 surveys in biomedical, medical and clinical sciences from the UK, USA and Australia suggested that 2%–14% of scientists may have fabricated or falsified data, with nearly three-quarters admitting other questionable research practices” (DOI: 10.1136/bmjgh-2018-001019). This alarming figure portrays the need for trustworthy data especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic. With this in mind, thousands of companies are looking to create ways to give researchers more reliable data. One technology that has the potential to improve current conditions is blockchain.
Blockchain, in short, is a distributed ledger system that organizes and stores data whilst providing verifiability, traceability and transparency. With its decentralized nature and without a single point of failure, it provides a permanent audit trail for data. Specifically designed to perform the dual task of recording and compiling transactions, not only does blockchain have the capability to revolutionize aspects of data transfer and storage but finds legitimate utility in healthcare and research where in extreme cases, inaccurate information could mean life threatening repercussions.
Blockchain technology exemplifies its use case within epidemiology by streamlining the process of distribution and providing trustworthy data. By affording researchers and clinicians the opportunity to transmit real time findings and data, it expedites reliable data transfer, providing accurate information and ensuring relevant information is consistently being shared. Epidemiologists require accurate data to model outbreaks and find appropriate ways of containing it. Many of the impediments set by outdated healthcare IT are preventing our researchers from working to their full capability, elongating the process of current outbreaks instead of providing professionals with a viable strategy. Blockchain technology assures compliance and can be a revolutionary asset in dictating how we deal with the unpredictable nature of pandemics.
“In addition to authentication processes, data transfer and verifiability, adopting blockchain refines existing surveillance processes by monitoring outbreaks and providing the dissemination of information to appropriate parties.” (DOI: 10.3390/bdcc3020025) The current process of responding to global outbreaks relies on distinct agencies contributing to a centralized database that reduces time flow and impedes the process of sharing relevant data.
Blockchain would give researchers a verifiable source of their data, ensuring legitimacy and where the data originated. This can help reduce the overhead associated with assuring its validity and provenance. Furthermore, with reliable data, an epidemiologist would also be able to prove their research hasn’t been altered. When publishing a report or model, they could create a blockchain-based record, allowing readers to verify its integrity, version, and authorship. By ensuring epidemiologists are using reliable data and allowing readers to know that their published work is authentic, strategies put into place can be more widely accepted.
Derek Strauss is the COO and Co-founder of Immuto and is passionate about improving data integrity in Clinical Research. With his experience in blockchain and life science he is working to help improve trial data verification without changing existing processes. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.immuto.io.
Cydel Giruadel is an ambitious life sciences and technology professional with a passion for blockchain and its applications in healthcare and life sciences. As a Content Lead, he thrives on the overlap between industries, continuously pursuing opportunities in which he can utilize his knowledge of neuroscience, pharmaceuticals and technology to impact correlated industries.