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Our options in the future of healthcare

"We are our choices."

- Jean-Paul Sartre

I THINK THAT we’ll soon find ourselves with an important choice to make. It’s no longer a case of choosing between the old and the new. Now we have to choose which new we want to go for. I think this will be the main topic of discussion across all industries for the next decade, and how quickly we make those choices will determine the trajectory we take into the future.

And I’m not alone. A great example of an initiative that aims to confront this issue is, which highlights a major problem with the way that the Western world currently works. “Our current 30 human rights protect us from history repeating itself,” they explain. “However, they do not protect us from the problems of today, or tomorrow.”

The idea behind Hu-manity is that our personal data is already being bought and sold, often without our knowledge and with no respect for the fact that the data is as much our property as our cars and televisions. They say that the human data marketplace is already worth $150 billion to $200 billion every year, and that this data is often bought and sold without explicit consent or authorization. That’s why we’re seeing more initiatives like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), and it’s also why, according to one investigation by Arkenea, we're each worth $182 to Google, $158 to Facebook and $733 to Amazon.

Coming back to Hu-manity, the idea is that each of us “can now participate in the human data marketplace where our inherent human data has the legal characteristics of property ownership such as involvement in sale, fair market value negotiations, sharing, lien and security.”

Their solution is to add a 31st human right, expressed as “everyone has the right to legal ownership of their inherent human data as property”. The idea is to add it to the 30 existing human rights that were adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and automatically extended to every single human being at birth. They’ve used blockchain technology to create intelligent contracts that are built on a “chain of chains” mixing Ethereum and other platforms. They’ve also launched an app called #My31, which is designed to allow people to claim that human right.

“Without human right #31 to assure that our data is our property,” they explain, “organizations will continue to buy, sell and use it without our having choice or control as to where, how, when or by whom it is used. Humans, our data, and corporations will co-exist where corporations enjoy blockchain-backed explicit consent and authorizations to use our data, and humans enjoy greater levels of privacy and control and quality to receive consideration via multiple forms of currency."

Hu-manity doesn’t get a namecheck in musician (and investor) Will.I.Am’s opinion piece for The Economist, but it might as well do. He says, “Personal data needs to be regarded as a human right, just as access to water is a human right. The ability for people to own and control their data should be considered a central human value. The data itself should be treated like property and people should be fairly compensated for it. As a musician, I benefit from the copyright system that attaches ownership rights to my lyrics and instrumental tracks. Why should the data that I generate be handled any differently? It makes no sense that the information is used as the raw material to produce billions of dollars of income for massive ‘data monarchs’ yet is of no financial use to me."

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at some more of our options when it comes to storing, processing and handling our healthcare data.

Citizen Health

Citizen Health calls itself a community with the aim of “rebuilding healthcare for the next generation”. The plan is to take advantage of the latest advances in blockchain, wearables, machine learning and more, reinventing the healthcare system from the ground up. It has an impressive pedigree, too. It’s built by a team of startup founders, academic researchers, practicing doctors and executives from across the healthcare industry.

According to the organization, their mission is “to build a global health economy where every man, woman and child will have optimal health and affordable care regardless of social status, economic position or medical condition.” They say they’re “taking control of health to create a prosperous future for future generations."

They plan to do this through the creation and deployment of three main innovations:

  • Humantiv: Designed as an “operating system for health and wellness”, Humanity incentivizes people to live healthier lifestyles through the use of wearable devices.

  • Medoplex: Described as “an open and transparent marketplace where healthcare buyers and sellers transact directly in a free market economy without insurance intermediaries.”

  • Digital assets: Built on the Ethereum blockchain using incentive tokens, security tokens and health service tokens, the goal is to build a decentralized health economy.”


Datacoup aims to be the world’s first marketplace for personal data, enabling users to bring their data together from whichever apps and services are already being used. This covers everything from social media data to offline spending habits, with the idea of unlocking the value of that data while simultaneously providing incentives to the users themselves.

The company says that people now deserve more than just a “free service” in exchange for their data. They claim to be the only company “that helps you sell your anonymous data for real, cold hard cash", adding, "It’s simple. If you connect data, you’ll earn.”

Datacoup also explains that data brokers in the US alone account for a $15 billion industry, despite having no relationships with the people whose data they’re selling. “Datacoup is changing this asymmetric dynamic that exists around our personal data,” they explain. “The first and most important step is getting people compensated for the asset that they produce. We are building for a future where individuals like you are in control of your data and are the chief beneficiaries of its value.”

It’s still early days for the company, but it’s easy to see that they have potential and it’ll be interesting to find out what the future brings. It’s not too far off that 31st human right that will-i-am and were talking about.

Project Baseline

Project Baseline is a project by Verily, Google’s life sciences arm, and is all about mapping human health. It says its aim is “to make it easy and engaging for people like you to contribute to the map of human health and participate in clinical research. Together with researchers, clinicians, engineers, designers, advocates and volunteers, we’re collaborating to build the next generation of healthcare tools and services.”

The idea was to get the general public involved in the future of healthcare by asking them to share their data so that researchers could derive new insights that could alter the way we care for patients. They’ve launched a number of different initiatives, but one of their most well-known was when they sent special watches to participants to track metrics. We’re yet to see whether anything significant will come out of the endeavor, though. And Baseline has also faced its fair share of criticism.

When I was working on my second book, I was talking about Project Baseline on LinkedIn when a friend of mine, Terri Mead, left a comment to share her experience. “As patient #12 in Project Baseline and a very frustrated participant,” she wrote, “my money is not on Google/Verily in the healthcare space. They are too arrogant and don’t listen to healthcare providers or those of us who have been in the life sciences space for over 20 years. I have given them feedback, offered to help, and stopped wearing the watch a few months ago and am waiting to see if anyone actually cares. I felt ridiculous wearing my Apple watch, which provides me with value, and the Google Study Watch, which did not and was large and cumbersome.” Mead has also written a Medium article on the subject that’s well worth a read if you get the time.

So it looks as though while Project Baseline is a good idea in theory, it needs a little refinement if it’s to become more useful to us as a society.

* Emmanuel published another version of this article on his professional site.


Emmanuel Fombu is a physician, author, speaker, and healthcare executive turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He holds an MBA from Cornell University's Johnson School of Business and a certificate on artificial intelligence from MIT's Computer and Artificial Intelligence Lab. He serves as an external advisory board member on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's MIT.nano project. In 2017, he won the prestigious New York City Health Business Leaders Boldest Digital Health Influencer Award. He champions the potential for the internet of things, artificial intelligence and machine learning to revolutionize the healthcare industry and some of his ideas can be found in his latest book The future of Healthcare: Humans and Machines Partnering for better Outcomes.

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