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Gem Unveils All-In-One Crypto Investment App

Blockchain startup Gem plans to launch a comprehensive platform that will allow users to track, store, trade and discover cryptocurrencies on one app.

According to Gem – which has largely focused on enterprise products for companies like Toyota and CapitalOne since its 2013 inception – its all-in-one, user-friendly solution will “bridge the gap” between veteran crypto users and industry newcomers. The platform was officially unveiled Thursday.

“Since the beginning of the company, we’ve been trying to achieve a simple goal which is to push the decentralized movement forward to put more control and power in the hands of individuals,” Gem CEO Micah Winkelspecht told CoinDesk, adding:

“We felt at this time in the market that we could make the biggest impact in the shortest timeline by going directly to the consumer to solve the problems we experience in the cryptocurrency market.”

The company intends for the portfolio component of its platform to act as a “single entry point” for crypto investment management, initially integrating with 22 exchanges. Scheduled for public beta release in May, it will also allow users to manually track tokens held offline in hardware wallets.

The introduction of Gem’s “universal token wallet” will follow in the summer, and will provide users with the ability to hold and trade bitcoin, ether and all ERC-20 tokens. The company intends to add support for other cryptocurrencies following the wallet’s launch.

Gem will also seek to connect users with the wider crypto community through its “discovery tool,” which will provide information about 1,500 tokens, and act as “a gateway to the broader cryptocurrency community” via features such as social media tools.

The company says it is committed to user-friendliness, and that it used data from surveys of crypto investors and “newbies” to inform the platform’s design.

“We’re all cryptocurrency investors at Gem,” Winkelspecht told CoinDesk. “So we’re very aware of the gaps in the market and we’re excited to launch this platform to fill those gaps.”

Wallet, bitcoin and phone image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Better Off Abroad? Blockchain Health Firms Are Gaining Ground Outside the US

Frustrated by the red tape of the U.S. healthcare system, blockchain startups founded to improve the sharing of patient data are looking abroad to prove their use cases.

The moves by Gem, which has partnered with a Scandinavian company, and IncentHealth.io, which is scouting opportunities in Canada, underscore the challenges blockchain technology faces in any heavily regulated market with powerful incumbents and resistance to change.

In U.S. healthcare specifically, rigid privacy laws, an abundance of intermediaries and actors, and the dominance of a few electronic health record (EHR) vendors have hindered startups’ efforts to create comprehensive medical histories for people.

“It’s the problem that everybody brings up at every conference, but it never really gets solved in the U.S.,” said Micah Winkelspecht, founder and CEO of Gem.

One possible response is to start with a subset of healthcare not yet mired in such complexity.

“Innovators in the healthcare space are definitely looking for use cases that do not involve Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulation,” said Daniel Schott, the co-founder of North Dakota-based IncentHealth.io, which created a smoking cessation program using the ethereum blockchain.

Yet, even though Schott doesn’t think his project falls under HIPAA’s scope, he’s still looking outside the restrictions of U.S. industry first.

“Because healthcare blockchain use cases face U.S. regulatory hurdles and the slow pace of technology adoption within healthcare, I will be looking to Canada as a space to further develop the IncentHealth prototype and find partner organizations,” Schott told CoinDesk.

But IncentHealth isn’t quite as far along in development as enterprise healthcare blockchain startup Gem is, nor does it have the struggles that come from dealing with the traditional EHR system, which in the U.S. is dominated by two players, Epic and Cerner.

So Gem had a similar idea to IncentHealth: take the product overseas.

As announced at the Distributed: Health 2017 conference in Nashville several weeks ago, Gem has partnered with Finland-based Tieto, one of Europe’s largest IT software and service providers, to build a blockchain ecosystem that aspires to give consumers control over their individual data.

Winkelspecht told CoinDesk:

“Europe has taken a very progressive stance on essentially protecting the rights of individuals as to how their data is used and managed and shared. Tieto is a shining example of that mentality.”

Particularly in Scandinavia, Gem found less-convoluted healthcare systems, a more consumer-centric ethos toward health data and a partner on the ground willing to deploy a blockchain solution in its home market.

Taking back control

The move makes Tieto – which controls 60 percent of the EHR market in Finland and has a significant footprint in Sweden and Norway – the first major legacy health record vendor to fully embrace a blockchain project.

Blockchain goes hand-in-hand with the company’s long-term vision for building a decentralized health model that emphasizes patients rather than providers, said Maria Kumle, business development manager at Tieto.

She continued:

“The notion that you as an individual actually control your digital self and anything that has to do with it is fundamental to how we see development in this industry.”

Expected to launch next year, the application will be built on Gem’s enterprise blockchain platform and will aim to give consumers control over their medical records and genomic data. Such control, according to adherents of the idea in the blockchain space and in traditional industry, has the potential to improve patient outcomes, reduce costs and waste, create personalized medicine plans and put greater focus on preventive care.

Further, a blockchain-based system could in theory let patients leverage their data for other purposes. For instance, they could consent to provide their data for research or for customized precision medical treatments.

Data minefields

The partnership will also serve as a test case for how blockchain solutions can help firms comply with stringent new consumer data protection rules in the EU (scheduled to come into effect in May 2018).

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) harmonizes a wide swath of patchwork consumer data protection rules into a single framework and canonizes them at the EU level. The rules apply to any company with EU customers, and failure to comply could result in a fine of as much as 4 percent of gross global revenue.

The Tieto project is attempting to tackle the portion of GDPR requiring user consent for data sharing, Winkelspect said.

Because consent will need to be provided before a company can use an individual’s data for a specific purpose, and that consent must be demonstrable afterward, the immutability and auditability of a blockchain make it a potentially powerful compliance tool in this scenario.

Winkelspecht said:

“Part of this is just proving the compliance of gathering consent, and blockchains can serve a function there as an audit history log of those event.”

Resistant to change

Through all this, Winkelspecht hopes to come away with enough successes from the project to prompt legacy EHR vendors and stakeholders in the U.S. and elsewhere to take a deeper look at blockchain-based health data storage and ownership systems.

“One of the biggest complaints about EHR systems and the large vendors is that, while they talk about interoperability a lot, it takes them literally decades to open up their systems and, even then, they really only open them up when they have to,” he said.

As with any project seeking to build a blockchain ecosystem, the key challenge will not just be getting the infrastructure right, but creating a user experience that will entice consumers to participate.

But if it’s successful, the project could be a stepping stone toward rethinking ground-level assumptions on how consumers view healthcare data, Winkelspecht said, adding:

“This is a big paradigm shift of who really owns and controls data. The entire infrastructure that we’ve built [in the past] was always built around a controller-centric model, so this is a pretty big undertaking that is going to change a lot of systems.”

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Gem.

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The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at [email protected].

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US Centers for Disease Control to Launch First Blockchain Test on Disaster Relief

For public health practitioners, the ability to quickly collect, analyze and take action on data is paramount to containing the spread of a deadly new virus or disease.

But despite the advent of big data technologies, collecting this information today remains a highly cumbersome and time-consuming process, explains Jim Nasr, chief software architect at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tasked with combating the spread of preventive and chronic disease.

Now in search of a better solution, Nasr is eyeing a blockchain proof-of-concept he believes could facilitate the more rapid and reliable capture of epidemiological data in crisis situations.

The agency will discuss the concept, aimed at public health data surveillance, along with several other PoCs, at the Distributed: Health conference in Nashville on Tuesday.

“It turns out that there’s a lot of manual intervention involved and there’s a lot of time lost in this whole process,” said Nasr, adding:

“Right now, this is a situation that could literally take months to happen, but with the blockchain it could be done possibly in hours.”

Real-time data

Though one of a number of recently announced blockchain trials within the US government, the CDC’s announcement is nonetheless more notable due to high-profile operational struggles its seen in recent years. For example, the CDC was roundly criticized in 2014 for its sluggish response to the Ebola crisis in west Africa, when several unknowingly-infected patients were allowed travel back to the U.S.

To improve its ability to nip these types of crises at the bud, the agency sought to work toward more real-time data flows by breaking down data silos and developing more interoperability between systems.

“What it comes down to from a software perspective is to get as close as possible to real-time data delivery,” Nasr said. “If we’re at real time, or what I’d like to think of as ‘neo-real time,’ then the results that we’re getting are going to have an impact.”

But, Nasr explained, it turns out that achieving this real-time “nirvana” was far easier said than done:

“As we’ve done this, what’s become really evident is that the CDC was never designed to be a clearing house or some sort of Swift settlement area where the data comes in and we eventually sell [it off].”

So, instead of capturing and funneling disparate forms of data into a central registry to be pieced together, cleaned up, validated and then analyzed, the CDC is now looking to process this surveillance data by encrypting it directly from local sources onto a blockchain.

These transaction records would be made available to not just the CDC, but to other nodes – local public health agencies, hospitals, pharmacies – involved in the disaster relief efforts that would be involved in treating the at-risk patients.

“If I’m in Houston and I’m exposed to standing water for two or three days and potentially exposed to some deadly virus, through this process it could be determined that I need to take some vaccinations and some medication, and I can then provide the consent for that,” said Nasr.

Why blockchain?

Yet, at a time when many blockchain proofs-of-concept are still struggling to go live, the CDC believes there is real promise in its chosen use case.

The unique urgencies of a disaster response and the disparate nature of the actors involved – CDC staff, local governments, local health workers, contractors, etc. – means that a shared, decentralized and real-time record of truth has significant value over legacy alternatives.

Nasr said that experience has proven that his agency’s legacy data management systems aren’t up to the task.

“We have had Oracle and various other databases up the wazoo for many, many decades, and we’ve spent a tremendous amount of money on licensing and building these things,” Nasr explained. “And as you can tell, we’re nowhere near [what a blockchain solution might provide].”

Micah Winkelspecht, chief executive officer of Gem, an enterprise blockchain provider that with a focus on healthcare, reckoned that the parallels between the decentralized nature of disaster relief operations and blockchain make it a strong use case for the technology.

“I don’t know that a command and control solution really makes sense when we’re talking about real-time actors out in the field trying to work with immediate data,” he said.

“Ultimately, disaster relief is a distributed network,” Winkelspecht continued. “It’s a bunch of people on the ground who are really just trying to solve problems locally, and what they need is a really efficient way to share information and data with each other in order to do their jobs and to do it quickly.”

Gem has been in collaboration with the CDC on this and other blockchain PoCs, in addition to Microsoft, IBM and handful of others. The CDC hopes to make a final decision toward the end of the year as to which vendors it will partner with for the project.

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has ownership stake in Gem. 

Flooding image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at [email protected].