Blockchain tech could allow patients to sell their own data directly and safely to pharmaceutical firms in a massive shake-up of an entire industry.

That is forecast of Jim Nasr, VP of technology and innovation at Certara.

Speaking to BusinessCloud during the Healthcare Excellence Through Technology (HETT) conference, Nasr explained that in a typical pharmaceutical trial, a company will sometimes pay thousands of pounds for niche third-party research.

The data and the intermediaries which hold it would be all but useless with the implementation of blockchain, allowing patients to interact directly with the pharmaceutical firm.

“They have to hire the scientists and the pharmacologist. Even though you're the person who is providing the data, everybody else on the way is taking quite a bit of a cut,” Nasr told BusinessCloud.

“Data is generally still siloed. Blockchain skips that, so the patient keeps the money. Maybe you’re not getting thousands of pounds, maybe its £100 to participate, but then they are getting to interact with you directly.”

Through what he calls 'computational trust', Nasr said blockchain could offer patients a safe, direct and near real-time access to their own health records.

This ability, when extended to GPs, could also mean faster treatment.

“The healthcare space in general is moving towards all of those [things], though not quickly, because nothing in healthcare moves quickly," he said.

“You don't necessarily have interoperable systems where a patient could easily or even at all - in some cases - get to their data.

“Ultimately governments are voted in by citizens and part of their job is to provide transparency with how they are working."

While patients are generally uninterested in how the technology works, says Nasr, the outcomes which blockchain tech could bring to patient data is more in-demand than ever.

“Patients care about providing consent, they care about getting some monetary value, and they care about the data not being hacked and it working in something close to real-time,” he said.

But standing in the way of adoption of the technology are concerns of security, which can only be solved through greater collaboration.

“The core of blockchain is about collaboration. If I built my blockchain technology but my company are the only folks using it, that makes no sense," he said.

“The principle is that it’s supposed to be distributed, but if it is only my company using it that is only one node, and one node isn’t secure.

“The more nodes you use, the more trustworthy it can be computationally.

“The idea of collaboration is something that in the world of healthcare, people talk about, but don't necessarily do. There really hasn't been a lot of incentive to collaborate."

Based in New Jersey, Nasr said he sees that US healthcare companies particularly have a habit of making their information ‘opaque’.

“The second you make the systems interoperable, the second you have tamper-proof records and allow patients to get that patient data in real time, that's when you make things less desirable to these cash cow businesses which are making enormous billions of dollars,” he said.

Nasr said the new way of using and sharing data would make it difficult for the existing system of pharmaceutical research to continue.

“Perhaps many of the current players are going to go away. These companies that have giant patient databases that they sell to other companies - why would you need that if the patient data could be provided transparently?” he said.

Asked about the future of the technology, Nasr said he was optimistic.

“Now government agencies are saying ‘we're not here to treat the intermediaries, we're here to treat the citizens, and we're going to stipulate these interoperability standards, increase transparency and disclosure, and put in laws which say that back-end providers must build some way for patients to interact'. The patient needs to have their data.”