It’s time that healthcare innovation joined the 21st century
As modern global consumers, we have all become accustomed to innovation. Every day around the world a new product is launched, many of which will go on to be transformative for society as a whole. Technology has sped up the innovative process especially in consumer goods like smartphones or personal computers and even in medicines. But when it comes to innovation, not all industries are as adept at keeping pace.
The healthcare sector, for example, is complex. National systems are under huge pressures due to rising costs and rising demand from patients for the latest medicines and treatments. Healthcare is also heavily regulated in order to protect patients — and this makes innovation in healthcare more complicated to implment than innovation in the consumer technology sector. While innovation in the pharmaceutical industry has certainly taken place, it has not been matched by innovation in the way we deliver healthcare. Hospitals in particular have changed very little in the way they operate, still often using out-dated equipment and IT systems.
A report entitled “Adoption and spread of innovation in the NHS” published recently by the British health think tank, the Kings Fund, gives some indications of why innovation in the NHS and other health systems is so hard to bring about: “Some innovations are incendiary, spreading with a spark from funders, regulators, professionals or the public. Others seem stubbornly immobile, no matter how easy they appear to implement or how persuasive the evidence base. Ensuring the adoption and spread of these latter innovations is a challenge in any health system. But anecdotal evidence suggests that the English NHS finds doing so particularly challenging, for example its slow progress in making use of basic communications technologies”.
So what could blockchain do to help? Blockchain brings in a higher degree of security and a greater degree of transparency than we have had in the past — these are already fundamental innovations that can help with aspects like data sharing and protecting patient records from fraud or lost test results.
Blockchain creates a seismic shift in healthcare relationships
But blockchain also offers the potential of a seismic shift, which could transform the whole way we organise healthcare systems. Pradeep Goel, CEO and Founder of Solve.Care Foundation describes this shift as follows:
“By tipping the mainframe on its side, as I call it, to create a horizontal system, blockchain technology allows us to build healthcare systems that are not system-centric but relationship-centric. There will be no need for call centres or 3rd party intermediaries once we have these systems in place. That means we will be able to decentralise relationships and disintermediate the middlemen in healthcare. I believe blockchain’s impact on healthcare is not so much about data but much more exciting if it is instead viewed as a new way of organising healthcare relationships.”
So blockchain has the technical solution but technical solutions are only one part of the story. The main barrier to healthcare innovation still remains cultural resistance to the social and financial consequences of change. The Kings Fund report summarises the position well: “There is still a need to convince some leaders that innovation is a solution to the NHS’s challenges, rather than an unaffordable luxury, and of the role they should play in supporting it”.
Even so, Solve.Care is already starting to make a concrete difference. The organisation recently announced the first partnership of its kind in the blockchain and healthcare industries when it signed a multi-year contract with Arizona Care Network (ACN), a leading accountable care organization in the US. The companies will develop a blockchain technology platform, which promises to improve clinical outcomes, relieve healthcare’s administrative burden, and reduce costly waste within the system. ACN, which is based in Phoenix, Arizona, manages value-based care contracts for a network of more than 5,000 physicians covering 250,000 members.
This is a great place to start but unless other organisations and health systems in other countries follow this lead, healthcare systems will remain stuck in the past. And, importantly, this means that the users of those systems — the patients — will continue to be let down by the systems that were set up with the intention of helping them.
Let’s use blockchain to make healthcare innovation the new reality for all — and start a revolution in hospitals and doctors surgeries — as well as the innovative modern medicines we all now take for granted.
by Helen Disney, Unblocked Events