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A New Technology to Combat the Pandemic

By Don Tapscott

This is one of those rare turning points in history. The COVID-19 pandemic will profoundly change our behaviour and society. Many institutions will come under scrutiny and, we hope, change for the better.

At the Blockchain Research Institute, we’re doing our part to facilitate positive change. Technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, augmented/virtual reality, and above all, blockchain are more relevant than ever—not just to business and the economy but to the future of public health and the safety of global populations.

Traditional systems have failed us and it’s time for a new paradigm. To build on Victor Hugo, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea that has become a necessity.”

Pandemics and blockchain projects: A framework

Given the urgent need for global solutions, the Blockchain Research Institute convened a virtual roundtable of 30 experts from five continents. We discussed the challenges of COVID-19 and the possibilities of using blockchain in areas of need. In our special report, “Blockchain Solutions in Pandemics,” we developed a framework for facing COVID-19 together in these five areas. We then discussed our findings in a Zoom webinar attended by 1,000 people around the world!

Blockchain and Pandemics webinar

1) Self-sovereign identity, health records, and shared data

Data is the most important asset in fighting pandemics. If any useful data exists now, it sits in institutional silos. We need better access to the data of entire populations and a speedy consent-based data sharing system. The trade-off between privacy and public safety need not be so stark. Through self-sovereign identities where individuals own their health records and can freely volunteer it to researchers, we can achieve both.

2) Just-in-time supply chain solutions

Supply chains are critical infrastructure for our globally connected economy, and COVID-19 has put them under tremendous strain, exposing potential weaknesses in their design. We must rebuild supply chains to be transparent, where users can access information quickly and trust that it’s accurate. Start-ups like RemediChain, Mattereum, and VeriTX are doing just that. Blockchain serves as a “state machine” that gives us visibility into the state of our suppliers as well as the assets themselves.

3) Sustaining the economy: How blockchain can help

If supply chains are the machinery of global commerce, then money is its lubricant. Yet, money as a carrier of the disease has been a stressor during this pandemic. We highlight the what, why, and how of digital cash as an alternative. The health crisis has also become a financial crisis, closing off access to supply chain credit. We look at blockchain-based financing solutions such as Chained Finance. Finally, decentralized models of governance can not only cut the costs of healthcare delivery but also transform how NGOs, governments, and individuals donate resources to fight COVID-19.

4) A rapid response registry for medical professionals

Front-line medical professionals are the heroes and our last line of defence. Yet hospitals can’t onboard people fast enough. This is not for lack of talent; it’s the inability to find them. Blockchain platforms help to streamline coordination among different geographies, departments, and certification bodies so that supply and demand for healthcare workers—as well as the process for matching them—becomes more efficient and transparent.

5) Incentive models to reward responsible behaviour

People respond to incentives. Blockchain serves as a mechanism to synch up the incentives of stakeholder groups around issues and activities, changing patterns of behaviour in the process. For example, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada collaborated with Interac to micro-motivate healthy lifestyles, and Toronto’s University Health Network teamed up with IBM to put control over health records into patients’ hands.

An action plan for the new paradigm

Many of these changes are beyond the timeframe of this round of COVID-19. But many can be implemented quickly.

Governments must wake up to the blockchain opportunity. Every national government should create an emergency task force on medical data to start planning and implementing blockchain initiatives. They can stimulate the development of technology firms working on the solutions described here. They can act as a model user of these important platforms and applications. They should partner with medical professional associations and other players to implement blockchain credential systems.

The private sector affected by COVID-19 must still lead the way. They must start today by incorporating blockchain into their infrastructures. Companies needs to continue their work on pilots framed around medical records, credentialing systems, incentive structures, and other sovereign identity solutions. When designing these pilots, companies could consider embedding incentive systems for socially responsible behavior.

Emergencies turbocharge the pace of historical progress. Businesses like Zoom, once used mostly by technology companies, have become ubiquitous tools of daily life. Meanwhile, 20th century titans are asking for bailouts. By necessity, human behavior—from where we work and when to how we socialize—changes overnight. Add to this mix the exponential properties of blockchain, and we’re setting ourselves up for a cataclysm of some kind.

We anticipate a real crisis of leadership as the new digital-first and digital-only models conflict with the old industrial tried-and-true. Maybe this awful crisis will call forth a new generation of leaders who can help us finally get the digital age on track for promise fulfilled? Who among us will step up?


Don TapscottDon Tapscott is executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute, which he founded in 2017 with his son, Alex Tapscott. He is the author of 16 books, which have been translated into over 25 languages, including Blockchain Revolution (with Alex Tapscott), Macrowikinomics, and Grown Up Digital. He is a technology advisor to corporations and governments worldwide. Tapscott is one-sixth of Toronto-based band, Men in Suits.

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