Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have hit the headlines with multi-million dollar crypto art sales or blockchain games like Axie Infinity bringing life-changing income to people in Southeast Asia.

But there’s more to NFTs than just crypto art and gaming. Crypto experts say the potential for NFTs — or unique digital assets whose authenticity and ownership are tracked on a blockchain — may be limitless as real-world use cases for NFTs grow — even in the healthcare industry.

Patient consent information for clinical trials, too, can now be tracked via NFTs through RightsHash, a decentralized software engine using serverless, open APIs, launched this month by Acoer, an Atlanta-based blockchain applications developer with a focus on healthcare.

NFTs to track and monitor consent for clinical trials

RightsHash uses NFTs on Hedera Hashgraph, an enterprise-grade public blockchain network, to represent and manage an individual’s rights, such as consent to participate in a clinical trial, as discrete, unique and traceable digital assets. Users will be able to track and monitor their consent agreements in real-time and track transactions from different data sources across different apps.

“At Hedera Hashgraph, we see the benefits that public distributed ledgers and blockchain-based solutions can provide to enable more transparency and security across the medical supply chain,” said Mance Harmon, CEO and co-founder of Hedera Hashgraph, in a statement. “RightsHash is an integral part of that strategy.”  

For RightsHash’s first live deployment, Acoer worked with Consent Custody Corporation, a company that safeguards consent agreements and personal data assets, to develop ConsentHash, a customized blockchain-enabled consent management platform for clinical trials with patient health or medical consent situations.

“We see RightsHash as a big technological step forward in managing an individual’s rights and protections in the face of ever more complex regulatory and policy requirements, and the need for managing accountable and dynamic consent,” said Brendan McSheffrey, CEO of Consent Custody Corporation, in a statement.

Jim Nasr, founder and CEO of Acoer, told Forkast.News in an interview that Acoer’s focus has been on building technology that is ready to be used in a meaningful way. “Our challenge has been how do we make [NFTs] practical in a high volume use case or set of use cases as opposed to novelty concepts.” Prior to Acoer, Nasr was drug development services firm Certara’s vice president of technology as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s chief software architect. 

With its first use case — ConsentHash — now live, Nasr believes the RightsHash engine will support a number of different business use cases and provide developers and organizations the opportunity to use the technology in a way that is practical, scalable and financially viable, without having to become an expert in every element.

Nasr said that ConsentHash was about managing individuals’ rights and showing compliance to data protection requirements in a world that is gravitating towards dynamic consent — the idea that consent is not a static, one-time event, but a nuanced and complex one that involves multiple steps including being qualified to participate in a particular clinical trial, which requires going through exclusionary and inclusionary criteria, assessments and monitoring. In certain cases, consent could expire, be revoked, or passed on to a custodian or next-of-kin. 

The traditional way of documenting consent was extremely inefficient, with a tremendous amount of redundancy and a significant amount of human involvement, Nasr said. Organizations could see 50% to 80% cost savings through digitization and making the process more efficient.

NFTs on the blockchain could also give people ownership over their personal data, which means they can profit more from their own data and having a greater say over who can access their data as well as how it is used. 

‘Land grab’ for health care data

“There’s an opportunity to help individuals understand that the data has significant value,” Nasr said. “At the very least, they need to understand some traceability about it and be able to monitor what’s happening to it.” 

“The land grab for health care data is real. There’s a huge amount of money, not just for primary data, but also for the secondary data marketplaces. We all, at least people like myself, don’t want to enable two or three organizations like Amazon, Facebook, Google to become the kings of the fiefdom of data for all health care, and we are the product,” Nasr said. “Data always belongs to the customer.”

“If you could bundle in a layer of trust and traceability at very low cost, very low friction, it’s a no-brainer,” Nasr said. “The movement is already happening.”

Does public traceability compromise privacy?

But does the NFT being on a public blockchain mean that one’s personal health information will be available for all to see? 

According to Nasr, public traceability and accountability are not the same as a lack of privacy. In the case of ConsentHash, patient data is kept off-chain, and the basic information that is kept on-chain for traceability and accountability is encrypted to ensure privacy. “We can be traceable, accountable, real-time yet privacy-preserving, because if you’re not privacy-preserving all bets are off,” Nasr said.