Going Public With Blockchain: Feature Interview With Public Health Researcher and Advisor Tiffany Gray

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Dr. Tiffany Gray is a public health researcher and advisor with over nine years of experience in public health and behavioral health research. Dr. Gray is a  Research and Science Advisor at Axes and Eggs, a blockchain-based think-tank in DC and Dubai. She is also an advisor for TruDiary; a tech-based application focused on improving health and reducing health disparities and inequities among women of color.

Dr. Gray currently serves as Guest Editor for Frontiers  Blockchain for Distributed Research and Co-Chair of the Global Health and Disaster Relief subcommittee as part of the U.N.’s Blockchain for Impact initiative. She is also a Fellow with Blockchain in Healthcare Global/IEEE-ISTO.

Dr. Gray’s areas of research expertise include mental health and wellness, behavioral health, substance use, and examining tobacco use behaviors among vulnerable populations, including youth and young adults, addressing cessation, prevention, and intervention efforts.

Below is a brief interview with Tiffany regarding the intersection between blockchain and public health.

Feature Interview With Public Health Researcher and Advisor Tiffany Gray

drgrayhealth Dr Tiffany Gray MPH

How were you initially introduced to Blockchain?

I first learned about blockchain about three years ago. Most of my initial introduction to the blockchain was on cryptocurrency. Honestly, I didn’t find my fit right away. It seemed very out of reach regarding my background and field of public health and research.

So it sounds like you were searching to see how it related to the current work in health and healthcare?

Correct. Also, having been primarily in research and academia, it was a bit out of my wheelhouse. But as I became more immersed, attended more blockchain-related events, and networked and engaged with other individuals within the space, I learned more about how Blockchain applies to many areas beyond finance and technology.

Can you share more here?

I discovered that blockchain technology and its associated principles could apply to health and healthcare, education, philanthropy, and the arts and STEM-related fields. The more I began to educate myself and connect with others, the more I saw the intersection between health and technology.

Any nuggets of wisdom you can share with others engaged in a similar process?

The main lesson is to break out of your comfort zone and remain open. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek out additional opportunities to learn. Doing so can open your mind to other non-traditional paths. This path has allowed me to think more creatively in how I approach my research and work in studying and understanding public health and health behaviors. It has also helped me think of creative solutions and approaches to addressing complex challenges and problems.

Being located in D.C., what sorts of conversations are taking place these days around blockchain’s potential contribution to Public Health?

People are beginning to ask more questions, especially those not already immersed in the ongoing blockchain conversations. Many individuals are where I was a few years ago regarding public health. They aren’t quite sure what it is or how it relates to their specific areas of expertise. Or again, they heavily connect it to cryptocurrency. With events such as a recent panel event I took part in at Georgetown University in May, individuals are genuinely becoming more interested in how we can apply blockchain to improve, for example, how the population engages and interacts with the health care system.

Can you offer a couple of examples?

There are engaging conversations around how blockchain can be used, for example, to address the opioid epidemic, using blockchain in social impact bonds and impact investing, and how blockchain technology can help foster collaborative research.

You’re currently involved in a fellowship with Blockchain in Healthcare Global — IEEE ISTO. Can you tell us what you have learned from that experience and how it has informed your thinking around the future of blockchain in healthcare?

Blockchain in Healthcare Global-IEEE I.S.T.O. is still growing and developing. So it has been an exciting and valuable experience to be at the beginning stages and helping to be part of the initial stages of development. With Blockchain in Healthcare Global, one of the most important aims will be to work with those throughout the healthcare industry and identify key stakeholders to understand the main challenges and potential barriers to utilizing and implementing blockchain within existing systems. We are working towards attempting to address and mitigate some of the obstacles to the adoption of blockchain and other emerging technologies, such as A.I. and IoMT, specifically within healthcare and healthcare delivery.

So what’s the ultimate aim of this work?

We aim to help create a set of industry-wide regulations and standards to ease adoption and implementation through this work. We have some ways to go. I appreciate being part of a group that ensures that we foster early discussions about the best approaches to integrate the technology in the most effective and feasible ways possible and ensure that we are thinking about the best ways to measure and show impact.

Concerning the theme of Obesity, Nutrition, and Tech, wherein your view? Does blockchain fit into this picture?

Technology is rapidly expanding and changing, which has impacted how individuals interact with the world around them. It has provided convenience, reduced physical activity, made unhealthier foods easily accessible, and influenced other unhealthy behaviors and habits. It’s easy to park on the couch and binge-watch the latest on Netflix while waiting for your local takeout delivery from UberEats or GrubHub. Technology can have both positive and negative impacts on our health.

In what ways do you believe this will inform future developments in blockchain?

It is important to note that blockchain is not a one-size-fits-all approach. While blockchain can be a valuable tool in helping to improve how individuals can access care or how they interact with various health care systems, there are still other factors to consider. These factors include social determinants of health, including environment, education, and policy, which significantly improve outcomes.

What specific things you’re keeping a close eye on as you proceed forward?

My main concern about blockchain and fintech has been to ensure that we aren’t introducing other disparities and widening existing gaps through these new advancements. While emerging technologies such as A.I., machine learning, and blockchain can reduce costs, improve workflow systems, and make life easier for the end-user, they may also have a broader socioeconomic impact. In other words, more technology isn’t necessarily better.

Over the next 12-18 months, what emerging trends do you believe we’ll see in the broader intersection between blockchain and healthcare?

I think they’ll be more discussions around regulation and ethical standards, the piloting and development of applications in the pharmaceutical industry, and telehealth integration in current health organizations and systems. I think there will be continued education and growing interest overall.