Blockchain is one of the most significant technologies since the internet. Government and states, locally and globally, have started to explore the Blockchain technology for rationalizing back-office paper trails and business operations. It has been at the center of media attention largely due to Bitcoin, an upcoming digital currency that uses blockchain technology. Blockchain technology is particularly helpful to streamline processes, minimize fraud, lower operational costs, eliminate duplication of work and generate new ways to integrate in a sharing-based economy.
Simply put, blockchain is a distributed, absolute ledger or database that stores records known as blocks, which further stores various kinds of information. These blocks, which collectively form a “blockchain,” are stored on various storage devices, which ensure that no single person or entity can manipulate the ledger or database without everyone else knowing.
While blockchain is being considered for many uses, its potential to revolutionize healthcare is apparent. Having an open blockchain for medical data can prove useful as most healthcare data is now segregated amongst different providers, who often use different database systems. These systems often have crucial information which is scattered and inaccessible. Such a scenario can prove to be dangerous in an industry where even a few extra seconds or minutes can make a difference. Blockchain systems built for healthcare can make important healthcare-related data more easily accessible leading to a better and faster treatment.
Blockchain can link patients to their data, rather than to their identity. According to a recent survey, the healthcare industry is planning most aggressive deployments of blockchain, with 35 percent of health and life sciences planning to deploy it in the coming years. Furthermore, blockchain verification can help increase the trust and integrity in clinical research publication. The decentralized ledger allows for a simpler, more efficient and cheaper way to share peer-reviewed research and is highly applauded by clinicians.
Let’s look at some of the ways in which blockchain is transforming healthcare:
Drug and Organ Traceability
Currently, counterfeit drugs cost pharmaceutical companies an estimated $200 billion in losses annually. Employing blockchain will enable every transaction between drugs manufactures, pharmacists, wholesalers, and patients to be tracked to verify and secure drug product information which is important for tackling issues like counterfeit drugs. It also facilitates new drug development by making patient results more widely accessible.
Moreover, it also provides a platform for tracking blood and human organs. These products are critical to human health and they often have a tight time expiry. Blockchain helps in safely tracking it each step of the way.
The lack of interoperability among data systems in a personal health network is impairment on patient care. Blockchain-based systems could help drive unique collaboration between participants and researchers to promote innovation within medical research, predominantly in the fields of precision or personalized medicine.
Patient Data Access
Informed patients know that data is critical in increasing their care and safety. This safety is beyond the data hacks. Blockchain provides ability for the healthcare providers to have access to information that will help them better treat the patient. There has been an inclination towards educating patients to manage their health and embrace wellness and prevention and that may also include the data that is generated out of this practice. Precision medicine in clinical trials presents another big opportunity for blockchain innovations.
Centralizing the results of clinical trials and patient outcomes for new treatment protocols can improve care and patient outcomes. Scientists can quickly find and enroll patients for their clinical studies and even complete their entire research project using online datasets. Researchers can cumulate research data across all the clinical trials a person has completed to gain unique insight which was not possible with a smaller dataset. Thus, blockchain could provide the access to make medical innovations quicker.
Claims and Billing Management
Employing blockchain could reduce admin costs for billing by eliminating the need for intermediaries with automated activities and more efficient processing. This could help minimize medical frauds which can cause more than $30 million losses in a year.
Contribution of Wearables
Wearables and internet of things devices can also be integrated into the health IT ecosystem through blockchain. Health wearables are currently storing critical information for clinical research, outcomes of treatments, and disease prevention and management. If validated, this data can be secured, shared and verified on a blockchain and thus the function of health wearable will take on a whole new role.
Electronic Health Records
Blockchain can help enhance three major features of the EHR systems:
Immutability via File Integrity: Each event on the blockchain has a unique combination corresponding to the contents of a record. This means that the users can verify if the status of the content of the records has been changed or not.
Cybersecurity via Data Access Management: Each combination may contain particular user permissions for doctors, patients, nurses or any authorized users or devices. Therefore, only authorized personnel may access record information.
Interoperability via Collaborative Vision Control: Each party has a record linked to the original record that is registered to the blockchain. Thus, everyone who has the appropriate role and responsibility can add information to the record while avoiding issues such as inconsistent or duplicate records.
With the growth of connected devices and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), existing health IT architecture is struggling to keep systems secure. Blockchain technology has the potential to be the infrastructure that is needed to keep health data private and secure while reaping the benefits of connected medical devices.
There are some incredibly exciting ways in which blockchain can enhance healthcare operations, however, more research, trials and experiments must be carried out to ensure a secure and established system is implanted before using blockchain technology on a large scale in healthcare. Today, the healthcare industry is drowning in data- clinical trials, patient medical records, complex billing, medical research and more. Adoption and implementation of blockchain will be an evolution over time as blockchain applications are vetted and adopted as well as the industry coming together to determine collaboration and governance issues.