In Kenya, some sell medical data online to get doctor appointments

Kenyan resident Belinda Adhiambo had to have her leg amputated when she was three years old after an accident and still suffers from excruciating pains.

But in her hometown of Kibera, a very impoverished neighborhood in Nairobi, paying a doctor could mean missing a meal.

“Most of these insurance covers do not cover people with disabilities because of our diversity. We have different needs,” said Adhiambo.

Adhiambo now sells her medical details to an app and goes to see a doctor.

She gets credit when she gives her details to the app, which the company behind it calls virtual “Hippocratic coins”.

“The first time I tried the app was when I was in terrible pain, and I realized I could book an appointment and see a doctor. I had a conversation with a doctor and he guided me on how to overcome the phantom pain,” Adhiambo said.

Adhiambo says she would not be able to provide health care any other way.

“For me, it’s an achievement because sometimes, when I need to go to a hospital, for phantom pain, I have to have money for consultations and everything. But with the app, I just ask Dr. Nick if I can see him through the app, if I can see him in his available hours and he was like yeah you can come and we’ll do that resolve with the owners of the app”.

The Snark Health app connects patients with doctors for diagnosis and treatment.

According to the startup, at least a third of the earnings from sales the company makes with user data go to them, which they can use to pay for medical services on the app.

Snark Health says it’s also a way for fee-paying patients to make extra money.

If a paying customer agrees to collect and sell their health data they get a fair share of the money earned, so Snark, the doctor and the patient earn a third of the money made by selling personal data.

“When a patient logs into our platform, they have two options to participate in our data monetization program or simply pay through M-PESA [a mobile money transfer service based in Africa] by cash and proceed to book a consultation. If they choose to be part of our data monetization…again all our data is anonymized, they will earn at least 33 percent or a third of the earnings from our data sale,” said Edwin Lubanga, founder of Snark Health.

Lubanga believes the app can help more people get qualified medical treatment without having to pay for it in cash.

“That’s how patients are empowered over time. They’re getting money in their wallets that they can afford to pay for the next doctor’s appointment. Whether they have insurance or not, they have an opportunity to have in their wallets that they can use to approve the next consultation,” said Lubanga.

Snark encourages doctors in several ways to participate in the app. When they see patients like Adhiambo who can’t pay, they get 10 percent of the cash Snark Health earns by selling their anonymized data.

“I have been using this application for about two years, and it has changed a lot in the way I practice. I am now able to put the available times on the application and the patient is on the other side can see the time,” said Nick Were, an orthopedic doctor.

“This has improved time management so the patient doesn’t have to wait too long and now I can earn money through the app”.

Snark Health says it uses blockchain technology to protect user identity so sensitive patient health information cannot be traced back to them.

The anonymous data is sold to pharmaceutical or consumer health companies.

“When it is unknown, that means we will never know, the contact between the doctor and the patient is not direct, and we cannot trace back to the specific patient who was diagnosed with what,” said Lubanga.

“The algorithm is only picking out the information we are researching. So let’s say a data customer is looking for specific things like malaria patterns happening in a certain part of the country, then Snark is able to show all these analyses”.

Game Snark Health

Game Snark Health – AP Photo

‘Technical fix’

A blockchain is a distributed ledger or database that enables users to exchange data in a decentralized and secure manner.

Each block contains a data set and a time stamp and the data blocks are linked to each other.

These blocks are closed and can only read or add to the data. Experts say that such characteristics make blockchain an ideal tool for the healthcare sector, which deals with large amounts of highly sensitive data.

“Blockchain is particularly suited to creating personalized ledgers of medical data, which can be controlled by patients, and the trend leverages that technical aspect of blockchain to provide a patient-centric approach where patients decide who has access to the details, under the conditions. , what purposes, and at what price,” Immaculate Motsi-Omoijiade, Head of AI at Charles Sturt University, told Euronews Health.

Experts say that blockchain technology can be a “technical fix” to ensure the security of patient data.

“Health data is always very sensitive data. But at the same time, we have to exchange these huge amounts of data between the different actors in healthcare,” said Giovanni Rubeis, Head of the Department of Biomedical Ethics and Public Health at the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences to Euronews Health.

“Blockchain technologies could really be a technical solution to overcome this trade-off because of their features,” Rubeis added.

He says he was impressed with Snark Health and its business model.

“Paying for services with our data is something we do in our daily lives. If you use a service like Google Maps or similar services, for example, these are free, but you pay with your metadata, with your user data when you use them,” Rubeis added.

“I think it could be used to optimize certain healthcare services, for example, to speed up data exchange processes, which is a huge problem facing most healthcare systems in Europe,” he said.

‘Not a magic bullet’

Blockchain technology alone is not a “magic bullet” and experts say ethics should be factored into systemic and regulatory interventions.

“There are many legal uncertainties regarding blockchain, and these should be clarified by defining its legal status and acknowledging it as an enabler of data security and privacy protection,” said Rubeis.

“One important aspect in this regard is defining compatibility standards for blockchain technologies with existing regulations such as the GDPR in the European Union, for example, and the HIPAA in the US,” he said.

“Blockchain technology can be secure because it is untraceable, it is untraceable and pseudonymous, and then there is the cryptographic authentication,” said Motsi-Omoijiade.

“However, it is not foolproof and is specific to the type of blockchain,” she said.

The app also has a responsibility to be clear about what it can and cannot do, Motsi-Omoijiade said.

Because patient data is the “waste of the industry,” she would be curious how much the data is sold for as the global pharmaceutical industry’s revenue is nearly $1.5 trillion (€1.39 trillion).

According to Snark, the app has attracted over 300 doctors and 4,000 patients so far.

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