Even in affluent nations, the healthcare industry as we know it is hanging by a thread. Around the world, healthcare services are unreliable, expensive, and out-dated. Ongoing debates over health care spending, the pharmaceutical industry, incorrect medical diagnoses and data protection are ever-present, leaving all parties disheartened with something which should be fundamentally secure and efficient.
Blockchain could be the solution for persistent problems in this space. While known for its application in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, the technology has enormous potential to change the way we interact with healthcare services, improving the climate for doctors, patients and administrators alike.
Pharmaceutical Supply Chains
One of the most prominent and controversial issues surrounding healthcare is the pharmaceutical industry. Due to increasing stories of bribery, raising costs to make a profit at the expense of patients, and fake medicines entering the market, it’s no surprise that many of us resent the industry and feel like it doesn’t operate in our best interests.
Several new ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) have plans to utilise blockchain technology to improve the way we interact with pharmaceuticals. Farmatrust aims to eliminate fake medicines from the supply chain by following each stage of the medicine’s progress, from production to dispersal. This will prevent price distortions and keep all information transparent for both the patient and designated healthcare professionals to access as needed.
Synthium Health is leveraging the blockchain to reduce the costs of pharmaceuticals by cutting out middlemen from the supply chain, connecting providers and suppliers directly on a cloud-based networking platform. This will reduce unnecessary costs while also ensuring reliability by validating manufacturers and their products.
Data Syndication & Patient Access
Visits to the doctor are often time-consuming and stressful due to the lack of data syndication and unnecessary silos present in the healthcare industry. Because patient data is not shared between various providers, patients spend a lot of time updating new doctors and doing repeat blood tests for things that have already been recorded elsewhere, and the redundant patient data is left floating around without much knowledge of who can access it.
When a patient’s health is at stake, time is critical for ensuring proper testing and diagnosis. All too often the patient’s medical history is left for them to explain to new providers, without having a complete understanding or access to their personal records. I have personally witnessed several instances in different countries where misdiagnoses and time-wasting were fatal for patients, eroding trust in the industry as a whole.
As these are time-sensitive issues, the majority of health-focused initiatives in the blockchain space are focused on data storage and protection. These projects aim to not only to liberate patients by giving them control over their personal records but also to reduce excess medical costs and to speed up processes.
Patientory and Hash Health both utilise blockchain technology to change the way providers store and access patient records. The blockchain is an ideal solution for improving the security of these records, ensuring storage that is both safe and transparent to relevant parties, free from the risk of forgery and misuse. MedicalChain is another initiative that aims to give patients full control over their health data while also providing telemedicine consultations and wearables with which doctors can track patients’ progress.
Bringing Power Back to Patients
Approximately 12 million adults are misdiagnosed each year, according to a study published in BMJ Quality and Safety. This is roughly 1 in 20 people, with half of those instances leading to harmful or even fatal consequences. This is not only deeply concerning but expensive, amounting to an estimated $750 billion wasted annually on unnecessary healthcare costs, the majority of which are from misdiagnoses.
Fortunately, a variety of blockchain projects are working to tackle this complicated issue. Healthereum and E Health First both aim to provide patients with initial patient diagnosis, regardless of their location, as well as secure data storage and syndication. Healthereum takes it a step further by working to improve medical infrastructure globally, which includes a focus on supply chain management. SkyChain is also working to solve these problems, training AI to diagnose patients, reducing the potential for human error (albeit raising some controversial questions in the meantime).
As a society, we may be sceptical about the influence of blockchain in improving what is considered a failed system, even more so when an emphasis on preventative measures seems scarce. For this reason I was excited to discover Mint Health, whose key focus is on improving patient awareness of health risks and preventative techniques, such as incentivising them to be healthy through gamification, reminders, and social support.
Eliminating Unnecessary Costs
Healthcare spending in the US grew to 17.9% of GDP in 2016, amounting to approximately $10,348 per person. This figure is unfathomable, with around $1 trillion wasted on admin, fraud, and utilisation costs alone. These outdated systems put a strain on all parties involved, especially doctors and patients.
Solve.Care aims to reduce these costs by cutting out the middlemen and connecting people directly. They are implementing blockchain technology to make paying employees, receiving payments from patients, and issuing prescriptions quicker and more reliable, meaning more money can be spent in the areas where it’s truly needed.
While all of these projects seem promising, we are still in the early stages of blockchain application in the healthcare industry. Several clinics and hospitals around the world are already implementing it, such as Groves Medical Group in the UK and ZhongAn in China, although it’s too early to tell what kind of impact it has had.
Despite being in the early days of blockchain application in hospitals, I don’t doubt that it will have a positive influence on the industry at what appears to be its most fragile time, but only if we are able to overcome the debates it will provoke as we move towards decentralised technology and away from traditional authorities that govern the industry.
Sea Foam Media is a blockchain, ICO & STO agency headquartered in San Francisco, with representation in New York and London. I currently work for their London office helping drive new media and marketing efforts for our clients.
Sea Foam Media provides end-to-end services, including whitepaper development, technology vision and architecture, token economics, digital marketing, PR, web and mobile app development, private blockchain network development, and smart contracts.
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