How Can Blockchain Benefit Pharmacies?

Blockchain is a revolutionary technology that is all set on transforming the financial industry. But beyond Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the blockchain technology has a wide range of potential use cases. If applied properly, blockchain can change the face of supply chains all around the world, leading to more reliable exchange of goods and thereby ensuring authenticity of products. This concept can be extremely useful for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.

The concept of Blockchain

Blockchain is simply a “chain” of blocks, each of which contain records for one or more transactions. Essentially, a blockchain is a shared, distributed ledger that records transactions immutably and keeps track of digital asset ownership. Blockchain can be used to track and trade anything of value, thus reducing risks involved with typical transactions.

Blockchain not only reduces the need for an intermediary party in a transaction (such as a bank), but also cuts down costs by eliminating duplication of effort. Anyone can participate in a public blockchain, but the data stored is immutable and cannot be corrupted, since this digital ledger is append-only and cannot be modified after the fact.

A few salient features of a blockchain are as follows:

  • Data, once entered into a blockchain, can’t be modified
  • Users can see any changes made to the chain, so a malicious user will not be able to get away with “faulty” transactions
  • All blocks form a chain, with each block (except the first) linking to the one that came before it and each block (except the last) also linking to the one after it

Uses of Blockchain

This simple concept allows for a diverse set of use-cases that this technology can be applied to. Large corporations such as Linux, IBM and Microsoft are already incorporating blockchain-powered platforms into their customer support systems. Many companies are also actively integrating blockchain technology into their operations to make things more transparent.

Before we look at an example, let’s first explore the value blockchain can offer. Consider a food supply chain network relying on traditional database driven systems. For a particular food item, say a loaf of bread, a retailer has no idea where the supplier bought it from. The supplier has no idea where the manufacturer got their ingredients from. The manufacturer may also be relying on raw material suppliers, and not have any clue as to where the grains are coming from. Not only do any of these parties not have any consensus on how to share data, they also have no way of checking and verifying when a certain piece of data has been tampered with. The manufacturer might have rolled out an expired product but tampered with the expiry data, or the supplier might have kept the product in their warehouse for too long. There is no way for a retailer to find out whether a product originates from authentic sources or not.

To combat these problems, large corporations are integrating blockchains into their supply chain to make them more transparent. Walmart is using it for their vendor payment and digital shopping platforms. Starbucks is using blockchain to trace the origin of coffee beans. JD.com is using blockchain to accelerate AI development. Even American Express is using blockchain to customize rewards for cardholders. The possibilities are limitless.

Blockchain for the pharmacies

The application of blockchain in one pharmacy might be trivial, but its true power lies in the way records are maintained. A lot of use cases within the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries can utilize this technology.

  • Health records: Maintain immutable patient records that can be accessed by medical professionals easily. These records cannot be changed.
  • Origin of medicines: Ensure the integrity of drug supply chains, and make sure that each medicine comes from authentic sources, is not expired and does not contain fake or impure ingredients. This will improve drug safety.
  • Prescription: Professionals can prescribe medicines on the blockchain, making patients eligible for only the drugs that they virtually own (or were prescribed to them). Pharmacies will not be able to sell drugs without authorization on the blockchain, thus making drug abuse (through medicines purchased without prescriptions) impossible.

A blockchain-based pharmaceutical management system will help standardize patient healthcare and medical transcription across the board, making the industry more open, transparent and safer for all stakeholders involved.