How blockchain helps to eliminate inefficiencies in healthcare – a conversation with Ahmed Abdulla

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Winner of many awards, often listed among the most promising startups, Digipharm is well-known to investors from Crypto Valley. It has recently begun a landmark project with NHS Wales and pharma giant Roche. Digipharm's CEO, Ahmed Abdulla, talks to Kasia Pieniądz about how blockchain helps to create a sustainable health economy. 
 
By Kasia Pieniądz
For the first time, I heard about Digipharm 3 years ago. I thought it was an exciting and innovative project back then, and now I am even more impressed by how you are meeting your goals. Congrats! However, I am aware of the fact that not all our readers are familiar with Digipharm. Could you please give them an overview of what Digipharm is and how its story started?
Ahmed Abdulla, CEO at Digipharm
The idea for our solutions originated from when I was working as a global health economist at Roche, and we would interact with healthcare payers and providers around the world to try and get high-cost therapies into their markets. We experienced a big appetite from stakeholders to share the risk of purchasing these novel high-cost therapies since there was uncertainty on how these therapies would perform when prescribed to patients with varying backgrounds. Typically, economic evaluation and assessment of novel therapies would utilize clinical trial data and the subsequent price of therapy would be linked to extrapolations that estimate the benefits of this therapy in the real world. I felt this approach was becoming outdated since technologies were available that can enable us to generate a ‘fair’ price for therapies based on real-world data generation.
Digipharm’s platforms simply enable stakeholders to pay for healthcare based on performance. In healthcare, we are now seeing a drive from all industry leaders to create more sustainable healthcare economies, namely using a ‘value-based approach. This means that healthcare technologies and services that provide good patient outcomes are rewarded and those that do not are decommissioned or replaced. This enables healthcare systems to offer the best available treatments whilst protecting their already limited budgets from interventions that do not provide expected benefits. Since performance data (whether it is a physician or patient-reported) is now the key to determining the ‘fair’ cost for intervention, there had been an absence of dedicated, independent platforms to help stakeholders process and implement these agreements in a feasible way.
We utilize distributed ledger technology, also known as blockchain, to enable key contracting parties to rely on immutable data feeds that protect against data manipulation or human error and provide a synchronized overview of the data to all parties to help them make objective decisions. We utilize smart contracts to automate the processing of these performance data points against pre-agreed contract conditions. This eliminates the enormous administrative burden of manual processing and enables outcome-based contracts to be as complex as required.

 

What is the most significant advantage of your project? How can the healthcare system, for instance, the Swiss one, benefit from implementing Digipharm's solution? I am talking about both sides-healthcare professionals and patients.

 

We are fully independent, which means we are not owned by any specific healthcare organization or payer. This means that we have no incentive to present data in a certain light. Our company and solutions have been crafted from the perspective of health economists and reimbursement professionals, so we have a strong grasp of where the market is heading and what we need to build next. Health systems will benefit from the adoption of our systems since it will enable them to implement performance-based agreements for any type of health technology (e.g. drug, device, digital therapeutics, diagnostics, and robotics) or service (typically health systems often outsource certain healthcare services). Building on such a foundation will enable them to protect resources, provide the best available therapies for patients under their care and facilitate continuous improvement. In addition to receiving the best available treatments, patients can also benefit from savings being passed on by their insurers.

 

I know that Digipharm created a utility token (DPH) as the fuel to power your platform. What are the use cases of it and its characteristics?

 

DPH is a FINMA (Switzerland) approved utility token for access to Digipharm solutions. Users of our solutions can use our tokens to pay for services/transactions on our platforms as an alternative to typical license fee models. Due to the importance and value of patient reported outcomes and patient feedback in the value-based healthcare space, we will also utilize DPH tokens as a basis for patient engagement via our Digihealth platform. Enabling healthcare organizations to interact with patients across the healthcare lifecycle; rewarding patients for interactions with health systems/providers, health and wellbeing activities, sharing of anonymized health-related data and taking part in Digipharm ecosystem governance.
Could you tell us more about the distribution of the DPH tokens? Who -and how- can buy them?

 

There is a total fixed supply of 100m tokens that have been distributed to investors, partners and community members with under 20m tokens left for ecosystem development and growth activities. DPH is currently available for purchase using UST (US Terra) stablecoin on Terraswap.io and loop. markets with additional exchange listings in the near future. They are available for all potential buyers with no restrictions or barriers.

 

Digipharm tokens recently migrated from the Ethereum blockchain to Terra. Why did you decide to make this change?

 

The Ethereum network has been left behind in terms of technological advancement and usability. Fees to process transactions have continued to rise over the past two years and this left us with no choice except to explore alternative blockchain ecosystems to build our solutions upon. In addition to vastly cheaper transaction costs, what makes the Terra ecosystem unique is the native stablecoin ecosystem that will enable Digipharm ecosystem participants to spend and utilise their rewards wherever they are in the world. The ability to pool DPH tokens with stablecoins like UST (Price is pegged to the US dollar) and other denominations will also open the door to the potential development of health financing capabilities such as health savings accounts, travel health insurance and wider healthcare coverage.

 

What do you consider Digipharm’s biggest success? Is there is anything that makes you, as a founder and CEO, particularly proud?

 

Our biggest success so far is probably our project with NHS Wales and Roche UK, which will explore the development of a performance-based reimbursement agreement for a novel diagnostic test for heart failure. This is quite an interesting project as it will explore the impact of such technologies on service delivery and in addition to clinical outcomes that would be typically measured for projects relating to drugs or medical devices. We also have a project with the government of Pakistan which is in its early stages but we hope to be able to impact many thousands, if not millions of lives. I’m very proud that our vision and aims, which originated in late 2017, are now matched by industry stakeholders and the whole healthcare ecosystem is now actively working towards sustainable business models.

 

What’s next? What are your future goals and plans?

 

Our aim is to continue growing the number of payers, providers and manufacturers that use our solution. We plan to work with more national level organizations to enable as many patients to be provided healthcare coverage using a value-based approach. We have a medium-term target of 5% global patient coverage (400m patients) by Q1 2023. Continuing pilots for more innovative implementations is also on the agenda, so we can continue to optimize our platform according to broader user needs. We will be launching our patient/public-facing Digihealth platform in 2022, which we are very excited about. We will be building many functionalities that make this platform the bridge between healthcare, wellbeing, patient engagement, shared decision making and healthcare financing. Regarding DPH tokens, we will be listing on more exchanges, making them more accessible for a wider audience whilst adding additional features to create a unique patient engagement platform.