drug supply chain (LeoWolfert/Shutterstock.com)

Blockchain as a COVID remedy

Members of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus sent a letter to President Donald Trump and the heads of agencies involved in pandemic response encouraging them to consider blockchain solutions for manage the coronavirus response. 

Blockchain can assist with authenticating the identity of individual receiving funding or supplies, better managing the food and medical supply chains and validating the certifications and licenses of health care providers. The letter also advocated bringing together private- and public-sector leaders to develop a coordinated strategy that would leverage blockchain technology to facilitate relief to those affected by the pandemic.

"Federal regulators should be considering new and innovative technologies to respond to this outbreak and reduce its spread. This year, we’ve faced unprecedented challenges. Federal regulators must be willing to shed the bureaucracy and implement new solutions,” Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), co-chair of the caucus, said in a statement.  “This outbreak is an opportunity for us to retool and focus on building stronger processes to better protect the American people from the challenges we face." 

Funds tracking

Better health care funding for American Indian and Native Alaskans might also be addressed via blockchain. The Indian Health Service funding is discretionary, so many tribal governments rely on grants and third-party revenue. Small tribes, however, are “too underfunded and understaffed to apply for grants resulting in a reduction of revenue by as much as 80%,” according to blockchain researchers writing in Diplomatic Courier. Additionally, they said, “IHS requires an extensive, redundant bilateral amendment process with tribes to distribute funds allocated through the Paycheck Protection Program and the Healthcare Enhancement Act.”

One solution would be the tokenization of grants, based on a Treasury Department pilot in which a token representing a grant payment -- along with its associated data including recipient identification, grant amount and key dates like when it was awarded -- can be tracked more efficiently. Grant recipients would benefit from increased payment efficiency and reduced redundant reporting.

The use of cryptocurrency also would allow speedy peer-to-peer transfers of funds to unbanked individuals. In April, members of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus urged Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to use distributed ledger technology to deliver coronavirus relief payments instead of direct-deposit and paper checks.

Secure absentee voting

Under development prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Postal Service in February filed a patent application in February for a blockchain-based secure absentee voting system. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the system would “use the security of blockchain and the mail to provide a reliable voting system,” according to the filing published Aug. 13. “A registered voter receives a computer readable code in the mail and confirms identity and confirms correct ballot information in an election. The system separates voted identification and votes to ensure vote anonymity, and stores votes on a distributed ledger in a blockchain.”

“The security of a voting system can be increased by using the dependability and security of the United States Postal Service or similar entity,” the patent applications said. “And this can be incorporated with a secure computer system using a blockchain or distributed ledger to ensure vote security and to prevent tampering or modification of electronic voting results.”

Social distancing

To limit the spread of COVID-19 from person-to-person contact, researchers have proposed a blockchain-based system that would allow authorities to limit the number of individuals in a specific area at any given time without the need of a centralized ledger.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Systems, the authors described how citizens could voluntarily sign up for a blockchain-based mobile application that would provide them with time-based “movement passes” they could use to access public spaces.  Local governments could restrict the number of passes for various places and times of day by verifying that only those with an active pass are attending an event or visiting a store, for example.

The blockchain could also accommodate geographic, biometric, financial and health data and could be the basis for “immunity certificates,” should that be necessary, the authors wrote.

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Connect with the GCN staff on Twitter @GCNtech.

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