Singapore touts blockchain use in COVID-19 data management

Meghann Showers

Singapore has developed a blockchain-powered application touted to better manage and secure medical records. Enabling healthcare data to be stored in a digital wallet, the software has been used in a pilot in which COVID-19 discharge memos have been verified more than 1.5 million times.  Government-owned investment firm SGInnovate and […]

Singapore has developed a blockchain-powered application touted to better manage and secure medical records. Enabling healthcare data to be stored in a digital wallet, the software has been used in a pilot in which COVID-19 discharge memos have been verified more than 1.5 million times. 

Government-owned investment firm SGInnovate and local startup Accredify jointly developed the “digital health passport” to support the management of medical records. Work on the application began in May during the height of the global pandemic, when SGInnovate roped in Accredify to join the project. The Singapore startup specialises in document lifecycle management products, including document management and verification. 

Funded by the Ministry of Finance, SGInnovate focuses its investment on deep tech startups that work on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and medical technology. 

The newly developed digital health passport is touted to enable personal medical documents to be stored in a digital wallet, secured with blockchain technology, for easy access and verification. It also digitises medical documents for distribution such as COVID-19 discharge memos and swab results, helping to streamline the workflow of healthcare services providers. 

This feature bypasses the need for paper-based documents, which are difficult to manage and easily replicated, lost, or misplaced, the organisations said in a joint statement Wednesday. 

The application is built on the OpenAttestation platform, which was developed by the Singapore government’s CIO office, GovTech, as an open source framework to notarise documents using blockchain.

“Digital Health Passport leverages blockchain technology to generate tamper-proof cryptographic protections for each medical document. Users can automatically verify the digital records via a mobile app and present it to officials via QR code, for a quick and seamless verification process,” SGInnovate said. 

It added that blockchain-powered data storage allowed for greater transparency, security, and privacy, and ensured personal health data would not be revealed. 

For added security, users can log into their SingPass account — used to access e-government services — and choose the relevant records they want to share as well as set expiry timings for when records can be available. 

According to SGInnovate, an early version of the digital health passport was deployed in a July 2020 pilot involving Singapore’s health and manpower ministries. Introduced as a new feature in the Manpower Ministry’s FWMOMCARE app, the health passport helped manage and display digital COVID-19 discharge memos for foreign workers, verifying such documents more than 1.5 million times. Foreign workers require the discharge memos to return to work. 

The digital health passport also was used on other medical records such as COVID-19 swab results, immunity proof, and vaccination records.

The application could potentially be extended to the travel industry and facilitate checks and verifications on the health status of travellers, such as the application process for “green lane” essential and official travels, or at boarding and border check-points for greater safety.

SGInnovate’s deputy director of venture building Simon Gordon said: “As the pandemic tested Singapore’s healthcare sector, we identified a gap in the large-scale management of medical records. We wanted to quickly build a solution that enables a trusted authentication process, to create more efficiencies for healthcare practitioners and officials working at the frontline, and support the safe reopening of the economy.”

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