Web3 & Health - Could it be? Part 1
Ok like, maybe. Rabbit hole time...
If you’ve been unlucky enough to talk to me the past year, there’s a good chance you’ve been subject to an excited rant about web3.
WTF Emily *Deletes Email*... but wait, hear me out
For a long time, I was sceptical too.
There’s a lot of hype, and it’s hard to navigate the BS. But, it’s hard to deny that the underlying technology is incredible - with the potential to change all industries. And in health, it could be revolutionary.
Don’t believe me? Think it’s a scam? That’s cool.
I don’t know a lot and am likely very wrong. But for learning’s sake, indulge me and read this one (ok, 2 part) thing before dismissing it?
I’m also aware, that in this crew, there’s a high variance of knowledge of this weird and wonderful space. So - we’ll try to take it back to basics. And to save the brain drain I’ll drop this in 2 parts.
Today - Part 1:
WTF is Web3
But Health isn’t even at Web2…
Tomorrow - Part 2:
Some Ideas & Opportunities in Health
NFTs for IP
Decentralised Health Journals
Incentivisation & Move-to-Earn
Health Data (duh)
DAOs - A new way for funding research & startups
So why is this necessary?
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And next week, I promise we can resume with “normal” content
👾 WTF is Web3?
Web3 is basically the term for the next stage of the internet. And it’s the very early days.
The basic premise - individuals and communities can connect, contribute and own their data, assets and value digitally. Facilitated through blockchain and decentralised networks.
Web3 is the internet owned by the builders and users, orchestrated with “tokens”. And carried out by “smart contracts” ~ Chris Dixon
Currently, we often don’t own our data. Big corporations do (aka Google and Facebook). Data and corporations are “centralised”. Acting as intermediaries in almost everything we do. And control and profit from the value others create. Think Youtube making money off the back of thousands of content creators. Or facebook targeting ads at you and getting revenue based on your data.
Web3 aims to redistribute this power and give some back to individuals and the collective. Allowing people to have ownership in what they create, and even generate returns, whilst improving trust, visibility and removing some intermediaries.
So, many see it as a potentially “fairer” way of interacting and value exchange.
The internet so far:
Web1 - Consume (Read)
Web2 - Create (➕ Write)
Web3 - Own (➕ Trust + Decentralisation)
How does it work?
Through peer-to peer networks. Instead of one single server, or organisation, controlling and “owning” all data and records - data is stored and verified across multiple locations, and many computers in the network.
It’s distributed and decentralised. Meaning data cannot be changed or controlled by one single source. Making it incredibly hard to cheat. Whilst having it on public show for all to see.
Blockchains are the ledgers, or “infrastructure”, where data is stored and verified. They are open and publicly recorded. And what cryptocurrencies are built upon.
Blockchain defined by IBM: a shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network. An asset can be tangible (a house, car, cash, land) or intangible (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, branding). Virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded on a blockchain network, reducing risk and cutting costs for all involved.
Web3 is currently largely comprised of new types of organisations - Projects and “Decentralised Autonomous Organisations” or DAOs.
Think of DAOs as new digital versions of corporations.
Or businesses built, owned and led by groups on the blockchain. Usually a community rallying around an idea, common purpose or values. Kind of like a well-run Co-Op.
They are controlled by the communities through tokens, smart contracts, governance & voting systems. Members can own a part of them through specific tokens - which can often be bought or earned from contributing. These tokens essentially provide a membership and/or incentivisation mechanism - providing people with “rights” and when the group succeeds, it can increase the “value” of the tokens. And collectively the value of the community or group.
Some Web3 Terms Ft. “Real World” Reference Points
Token = Shares. Own a piece of the internet
NFT (Non Fungible Token) = IP/Property rights. You own an “object” - digital, physical, music, poetry, membership or even access rights
DAOs = New breed of “organisation”
Smart contracts = Legal agreements
Governence/Protocol = Basic Laws, policies and the way things run
*Fungible = replaceable unit, that can be interchanged with another item that’s indistinguishable. The idea with NFTs are they are unique and can’t be replaced
I know, it’s a whole new world. And why it’s better to read the links from smart people.
But, Health isn’t even “at” Web2… or Web1
True. Healthcare has struggled with tech and innovation. And needs first to get to into the internet age. With endless barriers to adoption.
But… some of the biggest blockers and issues in healthcare?
Understanding, culture, and the alignment of incentives.
Getting people in the same room, on the same page and actually working together towards the same goal is darn hard. Not to mention, there’s always endless confusion, lack of visibility, and double-ups.
This is what Web3 could address. It presents an opportunity for restructuring the ways individuals, communities, and organisations operate - through collaboration, contribution, ownership, data, and incentive alignment. Without crazy long bureaucratic processes, wastage of resources & time, silos, and single institutions or a select few calling all the shots.
As I see it, the potential for healthcare is centred around 5 key themes:
Communities - Web3 is entirely centred around creating communities and ecosystems, providing structures and mechanisms for them to be aligned, invested and thrive. When they do - so too do the individuals in them. Given health is (at least in theory) so community-centric, this may finally provide the internet structures (DAOs & blockchain) required for people to actually access holistic community experiences, as well as have verified experts, accountability and incentives built-in. Not to mention provide better ways for clinical, academic and interest-based groups to connect, communicate & participate.
Funding - With these new structures there are opportunities for new incentive alignment and redesign. Enabling groups to be aligned, invested and have a collective say on what gets funded. And reward behaviour, or actions that contributes to larger goals. Both on individual and collective levels. Not to mention, provide visibility and accountability. Healthcare now is often volume-based instead of outcomes-oriented. As the incentives of the system skew it that way. New structures could mean an opportunity to change these motivators. For clinicians, funders, providers and patients. Whilst DAOs for investing and research could change who and what allocates and receives funding.
Ownership - Web3 helps turn the tables on ownership, providing new mechanisms for people, and groups, to take control of their data and work. As opposed to the current intermediaries or giant corporations. Health data and ownership has always been an issue. As have arguments over IP and research. Web3 provides mechanisms like NFTs where people could “own” their data, as well as have central records, and control over who accesses and uses it. And even potentially gain value or financial returns from it.
Data - Data in health is confusing, chaotic and scattered everywhere. Web3 creates mechanisms by which data is verified from multiple sources, cannot be altered, and is available to view. This could be one step closer to “a source of truth” or having everything more or less in one place. Not to mention, provide individuals opportunities for input and ownership. With better data, we can create better outcomes. With the potential to change health outcomes and research forever.
Collaboration - Though we preach collaboration, the old embedded structures off which we operate don’t often enhance or incentivise true collaboration and sharing. Web3s new structures, incentives and rewards systems could potentially provide more opportunities and clear pathways for collaboration. Whilst ensuring all parties are rewarded, and some institutions don’t drastically abuse their power. It takes visibility, accountability and trust to the next level.
Now - These are all clearly theoretical. And far easier said than done.
We can also see why pre-existing institutions might feel under threat or oppose these changes. As it could drastically change the power dynamics and render longstanding models redundant. So it all might never happen.
But, it could be an opportunity to take health back to its roots.
Community, Collaboration & Value - The Missing Pieces
In health, we preach about interoperability, collaboration, patient empowerment and community input. But have lacked the mechanisms (and/or willingness) to truly put most of this into practice. In clinical, institutional and consumer settings.
Systems are hard to change. But web3 may provide some potential mechanisms that could help accelerate innovation, commercialisation and empowerment. And arguably, takes health back to its foundations…
Community, collaboration and outcomes
Without communities, we don’t have the ability to combine our resources, combine our abilities and combine our efforts. Without communities, we are destined to fail at many of our endeavours, simply because there are great things that cannot be done alone.
And this is why I think it could be powerful for health.
Reading list for those keen to jump in deeper
Gaby Goldberg’s web3 reading list
John Henderson’s endless tweets
a16z Future’s DAO Cannon
Joan Westenberg’s Pizza Party - short essays on the metaverse, NFTs, and web3
Not Boring, by Packy McCormick, especially:
Catch you tomorrow with the more fun stuff in Part 2
And I promise then we’re back to “normal” stuff