Is Blockchain The Panacea That Will Ensure The Survival Of Healthcare?
Although many eyes are still focused on the financial sector, the impact of blockchain technology on various other sectors is just as interesting. There are several major challenges in healthcare that are currently being addressed with technology. According to a survey by IBM, 15% of healthcare executives claim that they will implement the technology this year, and 50% say the same of next year. Dutch minister de Jonge recently responded to parliamentary questions from D66: “Blockchain has the potential to organize cooperation, data exchange, and mutual trust differently. This can, among other things, lead to a reduction in the administrative burden.” Research Deloitte conducted among care executives confirms the following: 70% of these executives indicate that the significant improvement in collaboration between the various parties within and outside the sector is the main reason for considering implementation. Many healthcare organizations are already busy implementing the technology and, during the various keynotes and training sessions about blockchains I was allowed to give in the past few months, the participating healthcare professionals also asked a specific question: In what area can we get started? Here are my top 4 focus areas:
1) The Decentralized Patient Register
One of the biggest issues in healthcare is access to an exchange of information about the patient. In many ways, this causes a lot of inefficiency, errors and unfortunately also many other nasty consequences. According to Frost research, nearly 40% of patient data contain errors. Research shows that miscommunication between medical professionals costs the industry $11 billion per year. This is partially caused by inefficiency, but according to the start-up Labchain from Heerlen, the Netherlands, this is also due to the fact that healthcare institutions in the Netherlands still exchange patient data by mail, which is re-entered manually. Unfortunately, this increases the chance of incorrect entries, not to mention the errors made on the basis of erroneous data.
The safe storage of patient data also unfortunately often goes wrong. According to IBM, some 2,181 data breaches within the healthcare industry were reported between 2009 and 2017, with 176 million patient records stolen. This is interesting data for hackers because a patient’s file yields more than credit card details.
How nice would it be for you to always have access to your file, no matter where you are in the world? That you can track the status of medical treatment and share data with parties you trust? The GDPR legislation, which dictates that consumers should be able to access their data themselves, is a great first step. Unfortunately, that is technically impossible for almost all healthcare organizations despite blockchain being able to play a great role in this. The Personally Allocated Budget (PGB), whereby different organizations work together to provide consumers with the right care and that I discussed in an earlier post, is a perfect example. But the sharing of vital data with researchers, to allow them to use it anonymously for their research into diseases and medicines, is another example. Intel has recently launched a ready-made solution for the latter.
Many dozens of companies are already building or even successfully implementing solutions to the challenges mentioned above. Together with SNS Bank and Deloitte, Radboudumc built “Prescrypt” to easily arrange repeat prescriptions. The patient can determine him or herself with whom the information is shared (doctor, pharmacist, etc.), in order to conclude a prescription request. In its Blockchain Lab, Philips is working on solutions for sharing data between the various healthcare providers and connecting researchers and patients who monitor themselves.
There are many companies that focus on improving the safety of patient databases. It has led the well-known MIT Media Lab to establish MedRec for this purpose and internet giant Google, with its AI department Deepmind, has already made it possible for hospitals in England to put patient records on the blockchain. Guardtime has already successfully implemented the same solution for the governments of Estonia and the United Arab Emirates, and BurstIQ, Factor, Medicalchain, SimplyVitalHealth, Patientory, Nebula and Medicalchain also offer working solutions for this issue.
There are also various cool companies that use blockchain technology in an even more radical way. Coralhealth uses the technology to make personalized medicines possible and recently successfully tested this. EncrypGen has launched a platform that allows people to sell their DNO in exchange for cryptocurrency. Lancor has used a combination of AI and blockchain to develop a tool to increase the reliability of cancer screenings from 60% (by people) to 90%.
2) Get Rid Of The Deadly Fake Medicines
People in the Netherlands are used to obtaining medicines from a pharmacy and they can assume that they are also “real”, i.e. directly supplied by the pharmaceutical company. However, according to HRFO, 15% of the medicines sold in developing countries are fake, something the World Health Organization claims causes 1,000,000 deaths per annum! This market for fake drugs is now larger than that of illegal drugs and it costs pharmaceuticals an estimated (HFRO) $200 billion per annum.
Several industries are already successfully using blockchain technology to make their supply chain transparent for consumers, be it for orange juice or diamonds. American legislation already obliges manufacturers and suppliers of medicines to track medicines from production to sale, to combat fake medicines. Dutch hospitals and pharmacists will have to comply by 2020. Easy “tracking & tracing” is, however, a technical challenge, and some pharmacists consider blockchain the big “game changing” solution. Chronicled recently won the Newsweek Blockchain Impact Award with their “MediLedger” solution which was used by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Genetech to place their supply chain in a decentralized manner on the blockchain. The French startup Blockpharma also offers a ready-made solution.
3) Preventing Fraud & Mistakes
Research shows that 5–10% of healthcare costs are fraudulent in nature. On a global scale, this is a very large amount. In addition to fraud, too many errors are still being made in the administration, and the increase of this, in addition to the many intermediaries that further amplify it, causes an unnecessary amount of costs, says Deloitte. It involves a massive amount of money that, obviously, could and should have been spent on providing real care.
One of the advantages blockchain is being praised for is the removal of the “middleman”. By putting data on the blockchain in a decentralized way, many administrative processes can be automated and thus operate much more efficiently and fraud is prevented. Estonia has already taken a major step in this direction by having 95% of all healthcare data validated automatically and their operations made transparently. In the Netherlands, insurance company VGZ has successfully piloted an app that allows the entire maternity care to be placed on the blockchain. Parents can see on the app how many hours they have been receiving care and how many hours of care they are still entitled to. A maternity nurse can indicate how many hours they have actually worked. The insurance company can use this data to pay the maternity caregiver directly and to prevent fraud with the number of hours claimed.
4) Personalized Care
Personalized care is one of the biggest trends in healthcare. Gone are standard solutions for the masses: a customized pill or treatment based on, for example, big data from a patient, is the new norm. This is not only better for the patient, who therefore receives better care, but also for the sector itself. As an example, the industry calculated that $300 billion is spent on ineffective drugs per annum. Blockchain ensures the secure transfer of data between different parties, who can use this for the aforementioned research, but also personalized medicines. The company Robomed, which combines blockchain, artificial intelligence and the “Internet of Things” is a good example. Through chatbots and wearables, they collect and analyze a unique flow of information and translate this into practical advice for the patient.
Blockchain is not directly the panacea for healthcare that will immediately help the entire sector with its greatest challenges. However, Frost & Sullivan claim that successfully applying the technology can save the sector many billions of dollars, mistakes, and human lives. The first thing it then really has to do is to make an effort in stopping the forming of data silos that currently are hardly shared and that, according to many experts, is already causing major problems. Just like in many other sectors, the time has come to fully experiment with and invest in technology, to ensure that healthcare is still affordable and effective in the coming years.
Jan Scheele is CEO of Blockformer Global, CEO of International Blockchain Solutions. He is active in the blockchain industry since 2015 and is writing, training and speaking regularly about blockchain and digital assets all over the world. Furthermore, he is currently finalizing his book about the global impact of blockchain technology.