How is Blockchain revolutionizing Healthcare?
In the last two years, blockchain technologies have grown to attract much interest not only from the Tech industry but also from the general public. But what is blockchain in the first place? Blockchain is a distributed ledger that is used for storing transaction records. Blockchain allows sharing data and transactions on an immutable, P2P network that is cryptographically encrypted to enhance, transparency, security, and privacy.
Blockchain has been largely associated with cryptocurrency and financial transactions, however, there is more to blockchain than just cryptocurrencies and financial transactions. Several industries including manufacturing, healthcare, and entertainment are gradually adopting blockchain to leverage on its benefits of decentralization and enhanced security as well as privacy.
In the healthcare sector, Blockchain has been widely lauded for its potential to enhance security, privacy, interoperability and an ability to put patients at the center of the ecosystem. However, few people grasp the potential and possible applications this unique technology could bring to the medical sphere. Blockchain provides a myriad of opportunities for experimentation, investments, and testing. Below we look at some of the advantages of blockchain and how it could be applied in the healthcare sector.
Advantages of Blockchain
Increased data integrity and provenance: Blockchain transactions are immutable. Once conducted a blockchain transaction cannot be deleted or altered. Transactions are securely recorded on the network and can be shared across the network. This helps in proof of data integrity, any user can verify the data’s time-stamp without a third party or altering it. Once a transaction has been conducted on the blockchain network its original author is indicated and the transaction remains atomic for the entire life of the blockchain.
Security: Before a transaction is recorded on the blockchain network it must first be verified by other blockchain users. After verification, the transaction is cryptographically encrypted and linked to a previous transaction. Additionally, data is stored across a network of devices hence it’s virtually impossible to hack. Overall, blockchain offers unrivaled security for systems and data.
Transparency: All participants in a blockchain network share the same documentation, hence everyone must agree before an existing version is changed. To change a single transaction on a blockchain network it would require an overhaul of the whole network, hence the data on the network is largely accurate, consistent and transparent. Because of the decentralized nature of the blockchain, all participants can access any transactions provided as long as they have a private key. This allows easier sharing of information across multiple platforms.
Application of blockchain in the healthcare sector
Health records: blockchain can be deployed in healthcare to create usable, high integrity records for patient management. For many years healthcare practitioners have been faced with the challenge of integrating health records such that a patient can be treated in one hospital and move to a different location and still access the same information. Indeed, as of today, accessing, managing and sharing your medical data is a struggle for the everyday user. Blockchain allows health providers to create a platform that can integrate data from multiple centers and allow tracking of patient information.
An integrated health records system based on blockchain places patients at the center of the system since they are the ones owning the private key to their data. Patients are therefore able to control who can access or use their data. Blockchain applications will also help in the reconciliation of records and activities as well as help in curbing fraud.
This could lead to applications such as :
- Accessing and managing your health records anywhere in the world;
- Sharing those with any healthcare professional you choose securely;
- Keep track of your medical background (allergies, chronic diseases, vaccines…);
- Give access to your data when you’re not able to (e.g. in case of emergency);
- Check your latest medical prescriptions;
- Much more…
Data Security: Speaking of security, did you know that your medical data is worth more on the black market than your credit card number? According to Protenus Breach Barometer report, 140 million patient records were hacked between 2015 and 2016.
The blockchain has the potential to keep your private information safe and secure while still being able to connect it everywhere.
Here are a few examples of what is possible:
- Certified & private messaging between medical devices and service providers
- Proof of ownership of medical records
- Proof of authenticity for anti-counterfeiting techniques
Drug traceability: Statistics from the HRFO indicate that over 15% of drugs sold in developing countries are counterfeit. Reports further suggest that pharmaceutical companies lose about $200 billion annually due to counterfeiting. Blockchain can, with its proof of authenticity features and point-by-point tracking possibilities, curb this trend by ensuring that once a drug is produced that it is genuine and therefore users can verify the authenticity of the drugs before purchasing them.
Securing clinical trials: Coordinating clinical trials and research and development activities have been even more challenging since there are several institutions involved. This has been made even more difficult due to dishonesty and theft of intellectual property. Blockchain can change this by allowing users to authenticate any document and ensuring proof of existence. Researchers can, therefore, share statistics, test results and quality reports without fear of intellectual property theft.
Moreover, having access to a huge anonymous database of patients is a dream that many would love to see happening in medical research. As of today, with all the different and disconnected services, it’s impossible to go over all the records that could be useful in new treatment protocols or simple epidemiological research.
All around the world medical care fraud has caused millions of dollars in losses. Blockchain-based systems, while not making this number reach zero, could help minimize it by a lot more than many imagine. As a reminder, the blockchain is an immutable, transparent and highly secured registry.
Moreover, the overall cost of the healthcare system would be greatly reduced and highly optimized.
The blockchain could allow research institutes to run audits that would reach for relevant medical information who would be transmitted back to them anonymously if allowed by the patient.
Over and above blockchain offers multiple advantages that if leveraged upon will mostly shift the healthcare sector for the better. While blockchain has not been universally adopted in any jurisdiction its use in the healthcare sector is only going to broaden going into the future and we at Pikcio want to be part of it.