May 30, 2019

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

by Michael Scott in Industry

Dr. Tiffany Gray, is a public health researcher and advisor with over 9 years of experience in the field of public health and behavioral health research. Dr. Gray is a  Research and Science Advisor at Axes and Eggs, a blockchain-based think-tank based in DC and Dubai. She also is an advisor for TruDiary, which is 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, as well as Co-Chair of the Global Health and Disaster Relief subcommittee as part of the UN’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

How you were initially introduced to Blockchain?

I first learned about blockchain about 3 years ago. Most of my initial introduction to blockchain was centered around cryptocurrency. Honestly, I didn’t find my fit right away. It seemed very out of reach in regards to 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 you were doing in health and healthcare?

Correct. Also, having been mostly in research and academia, it was a bit out of my wheelhouse. But as I began to become more immersed, attend more blockchain-related events and network and engage with other individuals within the space, I got to learn more about how Blockchain applies to many areas beyond finance and technology.

Can you share more here?

What I discovered is that blockchain technology and its associated principles can and will apply to not just health and healthcare, but also education, philanthropy, as well as the arts and STEM-related fields. The more I began to educate myself and connect with others, I was able to see the intersection between health and technology and how it could be used as a tool and a resource for improving upon the way we currently manage and address health.

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 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 to think of creative solutions and approaches to addressing complex challenges and problems.

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

People are beginning to ask more questions, especially those who are not already immersed in the ongoing blockchain conversations. Many individuals, in regards to public health, are sort of where I was a few years ago. 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, the ways in which the population engages and interacts with the health care system.

Can you offer a couple of examples?

There are engaging conversations taking place around how blockchain can be used for example to address the opioid epidemic, using blockchain in social impact bonds and impact investing, as well as how blockchain technology can help to 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 ISTO is still growing and developing. So it has been an interesting 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 biggest aims will be to work with those throughout the healthcare industry, as well as identify key stakeholders to gain insight into 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 barriers to adoption of blockchain and other emerging technologies, such as AI and IoMT, specifically within healthcare and healthcare delivery.

So what’s the ultimate aim of this work?

Through this work, we aim to help create a set of industry-wide regulations and standards to ease adoption and implementation.  We have some ways to go, but I appreciate being part of a group that’s ensuring that we are fostering early discussions about the best approaches to not only integrate the technology in the most effective and feasible ways possible but also to ensure that we are thinking about the best ways to measure and show impact.

With respect to the theme of Obesity, Nutrition, and Tech, where in your view does blockchain fit into this picture?

Technology is rapidly expanding and changing, which has had an impact on the ways in which individuals interact with the world around them. It has provided convenience, which reduces physical activity, makes unhealthier foods easily accessible, and influences other unhealthy behaviors and habits. It’s so easy these days 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 or 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 fit all approach. While blockchain can be a useful tool in helping to improve the ways in which individuals can access care or the ways in which they interact with various health care systems, there are still other factors, such as social determinants of health, including environment, education, and policy that play a significant role in improving outcomes.

Are there any specific things that you’re keeping a close eye on as you proceed forward?

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

Over the next 12-18 months, what sorts of emerging trends do you believe we’ll see in terms of 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, as well as telehealth integration in current health organizations and systems. In general, I think there will be continued education and growing interest overall.

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