When people think of blockchain technology they think of money and of crypto currencies like bitcoin. However, in the last three years it has become obvious that blockchain’s biggest innovation doesn’t lie with money, but in fact has a larger potential beyond just fintech. Blockchain can be used as a trust-based system that can be applied to things like online voting, building digital identities and transferring data in systems like healthcare.
While blockchain started making its name globally in 2009, in Australia it is still a relatively new place for startups to work in, with regulations and red tape in the past largely preventing entrepreneurs testing their ideas in market. Currently in Australia there are several startups working in the blockchain sphere, but most of those – including Flash FX, CoinJar and Dime – work in the fintech sector.
However, in the 2016 Federal Budget the Government highlighted improvements to Australia’s regulatory framework, with opportunities to review blockchain technology to encourage more startups to work in the sapce. In June this year ASIC then released a consultation paper on a proposed regulatory sandbox licensing exemption to further assist startups navigating through the regulatory framework.
Sydney-based startup Brontech is one of the latests startups to utilise blockchain technology in a different way to fintechs. Unlike fintech startups, Brontech is not moving money, giving loans or encrypting currency, but rather using blockchain to build a platform that can establish trust and security in the healthcare system.
Cofounder of Brontech Emma Poposka explained that the startup is specialising in the identity module.
“We are trying to build a digital identity that’s like bulletproof, and that can be used by everybody, even by people who don’t necessarily have legal identities in their countries,” she said.
“We are utilising blockchain technology to develop a horizontal platform for identity. So we’re covering several verticals, one of them is education and the other is healthcare.”
One of the verticals Brontech is in the midst of creating is a platform called Cyph MD, which uses blockchain technology to facilitate the sharing of data in healthcare. It is imperative for the healthcare sector to have an accurate, reliable and privacy-preserving data sharing system. However in most countries around the world, including Australia, this system is fragmented and individual patient records are kept in isolated data silos that are managed by autonomous healthcare providers.
For example, data of a patient’s medical history is fragmented between GPs, specialists, chemists, and hospitals. Clinicians and medical staff face many challenges when trying to communicate data with entities or personnel outside of the organisation they work for.
Cyph MD leverages asymmetric cryptography, which is the use of private and public keys to encrypt and decrypt data. The asymmetric cryptography is paired with a hierarchical certificate system so that every healthcare provider can issue ‘identity tokens’ to its practitioners who have been digitally signed by the hospital. This allows for communication between different stakeholders within the healthcare sector.
Practitioners and institutes undergo a one-off identity check and use online ‘identity tokens’ to securely communicate and share data across the entire healthcare network. Cyph MD has been built on top of the Ethereum blockchain, a decentralised platform that runs smart contracts on its shared global infrastructure without the possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference.
The Ethereum platform eliminates the need for Cyph MD to set additional infrastructure, allowing the startup to integrate the already existing data systems to facilitate data sharing as a secure communication protocol.
“We are making a protocol, essentially a platform for communication. However the data will still stay decentralised, and this pattern is not only characteristic for Australia, it’s pretty much characteristic for other countries as well,” said Poposka.
For example, Europe is governed by the European Union and so each country’s healthcare systems need to talk to each other. Cyph MD is looking integrate the healthcare system not only in Australia but across borders. This means that if someone were to migrate from England to Australia their medical data from England would be pulled from the system so doctors could use it in Australia.
Earlier this year Cyph MD entered the Westpac Bluechilli healthtech competition and received the People’s Choice award. Since the competition, Cyph MD is now in the pre-seed funding stage, looking to secure $800,000 in investment.
In the next 12 months Cyph MD is also seeking to expand its team to launch the platform in October. Poposka said that at this stage it’s difficult to find blockchain developers and hopes the startup can establish a team that knows as much about blockchain as the core team does.
“It’s very difficult to find good people in blockchain; we have connections with Europe, but we are trying to find other startups in Australia to come to us to develop blockchain software for them. As much as that is a great opportunity for a startup like us, it’s still a great challenge because we’re expanding very fast and we cannot find the people, so we have to train them from scratch and teach them.”
Image: Voidan Kardalev and Emma Poposka. Source: Supplied.