German Startup Pitches Decentralized ID for Prescription Pickup During COVID-19

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Berlin-based blockchain startup Spherity has developed a decentralized identity prototype that would help people get the medicines they need while maintaining proper social distance.

“We see a big opportunity when it comes to social distancing to get decentralized ID out the door,” said Spherity CEO Carsten Stöcker. “Humans interact with smartphones, but governments and doctors’ offices interact with legacy infrastructure – so that means we need to bridge the gap.”

The “E-Rezept” prototype relies on self-sovereign identity (SSI), a way of managing the various attributes that comprise digital identity in a decentralized manner. Moving things away from password-based centralized architectures allows the real owners of sensitive personal data to control and share it without compromising their privacy.

Germany passed legislation last summer to help digitize pharmacies. Like many complex engineering transformations that would normally take months or years to complete, the coronavirus pandemic is kickstarting solutions for the coming weeks. 

Spherity was one of some 40,000 participants that applied to take part in the WirVsVirus virtual hackathon organized by the German government. That number was whittled down to 2,000 actual participants, but the coronavirus-focused event still counts as “the biggest hackathon in Germany’s history,” according to German Chancellery Minister Helge Braun.

Stöcker said the E-Rezept project was inspired by his mother who didn’t want to go to an overcrowded doctor’s office just to renew a pharmaceutical prescription. A lack of faith in remote identity verification is the reason patients are required to renew prescriptions in person, he said.

The Spherity prototype requires patients to carry their digital fingerprints in wallets which can be accessed by doctors. Once these know-your-customer (KYC) credentials are matched with their records, an electronic prescription can be issued.

“We are using smartphone wallets, cloud agent infrastructure, in combination with the ethereum blockchain. But it could also be combined with other SSI solutions such as Hyperledger Indy,” said Stöcker.

The next digital step would be connecting the patient’s wallet to an online pharmacy. Given the risks of contagion and the need to reduce traffic on critical infrastructure, urgent social distancing is the spur to push forward e-medicine, Stöcker said.

“There is an opportunity to do a quick fix using existing decentralized identity technology,” he said.

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