Personnel shortages, climbing health costs… These are some of the reasons South Korea’s Gangwon Province has tasked ICONLOOP and several other IT firms to build a blockchain and AI-powered platform to control chronic diseases.

The Korean-language blockchain news outlet Decenter took a look at the province’s trial project, one of 10 publicly led trial blockchain projects for 2020 supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Korea Internet Security Agency.

According to its own health statistics, rugged Gangwon Province has some terrible health outcomes, at least by Korean standards. It has the highest rates for smoking for males, high-risk alcohol consumption and high blood pressure in South Korea. As of 2018, it also had the highest rate of obesity in the country.

Accordingly, the province has entrusted ICONLOOP, digital healthcare provider UbiPlus and AI specialists EIDWare to build an integrated platform that can manage the resulting chronic diseases.

Geography and demographics drive Gangwon Province’s interest in remote medical services. The province’s mountainous terrain limits medical access, leading to many deaths in transport. Moreover, the area has a large elderly population, resulting in many incidents of chronic cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.

The province launched a remote healthcare project in 2004 that connected major provincial hospitals with 153 smaller clinics and other places facing limited treatment options to allow doctors to issue remote joint diagnoses. This program, still in operation, uses a remote medicine network to ascertain a patient’s condition and provide guides for treatment.

Based on this experience, the government designated Gangwon Province as a regulation-free zone for digital healthcare last July.

However, the existing system has experienced difficulties. According to UbiPlus, there aren’t enough personnel to manage all the potentially high-risk patients. Moreover, disease management costs have climbed year-by-year because patients are highly dependent on the public healthcare system.

Enter AI and the IoMT, or “Internet of Medical Things.” Gangwon Province’s project stores individual health data such as blood sugar and blood pressure numbers collected by mobile devices. The operators then use AI to provide so-called “self-care” services tailored to the individual patient. Signs of risk can be detected ahead to time, preventing more serious diseases.

Since AI provides the primary tailored analysis, the system reduces the need for specialized medical personnel. A handful of personnel can now offer medical services to many patients. Patients, too, can easily use the service simply by downloading an app.

To make this work, the system needs to secure the integrity and reliability of the health data collected.

Enter blockchain, the “trustless” technology. Data saved on the blockchain is immutable and can protect the privacy of sensitive medical information.

UbiPlus told Decenter that blockchain could later play a core role in providing incentives to patients who achieve certain health goals. This could take the form of providing points for every 5,000 steps taken. These points could be used within Gangwon Province like a regional currency. No concrete plans for such an incentive system have yet been crafted, however.

An ICONLOOP official predicted that somebody using the platform would be able to query their own personal health records when they visit a hospital. The official said the platform is being constructed with the possibility of connecting it to other local health services in mind.

ICONLOOP Communication Team Lead Minhwan Kim said

“The Gangwon-do area is a region that is expected to benefit from zero-contact, which is in the spotlight of the current COVID-19 situation, as it is in the process of remote health management through regulatory exceptions due to the specificity of the region. ICONLOOP will lead the application of blockchain in the medical field with this project.”