When we first started experiencing the information-relaying power of the internet, there were no trust or centralization issues, simply because the underlying tech tools powering Web 1.0—SMTP and HTTP—were credibly neutral. These open-source protocols were incapable of censoring, controlling or misusing user trust.
However, gigantic corporations soon realized that openness and lack of control over internet users were bad for business. So, in came Web 2.0, with a two-chapter playbook: own the code and leverage user data to create value for company founders and investors.
Web 2.0 Healthcare
Successful Web 2.0 healthcare endeavors led to tech platforms that connect patients with doctors, sync doctors with doctors and relay information between hospitals. Business-wise, a centralized internet has led to monetized telehealth platforms and niche virtual care pathways, and—less profitable but very popular—health and nutrition forums, where patients share experiences and treatments and make recommendations.
But setting aside these gains for a minute, most Web 2.0-based healthcare is still about creating information silos, disregarding patients’ ownership of their own data and rushing to centralize, mainly to benefit the shareholder.
When we part with our private medical information on Web 2.0 platforms, we expect services not to abuse our data or change privacy rules at will. Unfortunately, that trust has often been broken by companies in the past. So, the next time we hand over our genome to genetic testing tools which dig deep into our health or ancestry, trust issues are bound to be part of that transaction.
Web 3.0 And Decentralization
In the Internet’s latest avatar, Web 3.0, everything functions around individuals instead of centralized companies, because it is built using open-source software by a public community of contributors. The most common Web 3.0 initiatives use blockchain-based tokens to allow a like-minded community to take an equal part in a digital platform’s ownership, access and governance.
In short, Web 3.0 is a big step forward in community-building that could improve how we deliver and pay for healthcare.
At the heart of Web 3.0 lies a system of distributed ledgers, commonly known as blockchain. Here, data is never stored in one place or managed by one entity. On the contrary, it is spread across distributed ledgers, making information "unfudgeable." Any user action, for instance, a transaction or a change of information source, updates the blockchain, preserving the history and verifying the activity across the distributed ledgers.
The base healthcare application for Web 3.0 is remaking electronic health records (EHRs), a keystone of Web 1.0 healthcare technology. Transferring EHRs from siloed, centralized software to interoperable, patient-owned, immutable records could solve a lot of problems. Anyone wishing to change or use your healthcare data without your permission faces an impossible task because of your medical data’s distributed nature.
Web 3.0’s decentralized business model revolves around handing over to users the ownership of their data and putting the community first. This means that the next Uber will be owned by riders and drivers; content creators will own the next social networks; and artists will own the next music streaming services. And certainly not too far behind these innovations, the next healthcare platform will be owned by patients.
Are We There Yet?
The truth is, we are not at Web 3.0 yet, and we will not get there anytime soon. Plus, in a practical sense, it’s less about Web 3.0 supplanting Web 2.0 and more about Web 2.0 becoming incorporated into Web 3.0. Nonetheless, for a long time, Web 3.0 and its decentralized model have been only theoretical, but now people are beginning to believe in it and build a surge of momentum to create it. Ignore it at your own risk.
There’s no way to discuss Web 3.0 without bringing up tokens, which are commonly linked to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. However, that correlation is not entirely accurate, because cryptocurrencies are bound to specific platforms—for instance, Bitcoin and Ethereum run on different platforms—while crypto tokens are digital assets that are platform-agnostic.
Let's envision a future where every interaction you have with the healthcare system is not only stored in a blockchain ledger that you control but also earns you tokens. What if all the information from your smartwatch is also being absorbed into that blockchain record, earning you more tokens? And finally, what if all those earned tokens gave you voting rights to control, enhance and transform our healthcare system?
Personally, I spend a great deal of time scouting for new breakthroughs in healthcare that ride on some form of Web 3.0, albeit at an early stage, and I can’t wait to be a part of the coming change.