Blockchain and Healthcare

hand shaking with lines of data to represent the blockchain

Blockchain has revolutionized several sectors that have sought new ways to maximize it in operations and innovation.

Just like we have seen in the insurance and supply chain sectors, Blockchain can spur innovations in the health care sector for a better patient-centric approach. In this article, we will learn how to utilize blockchain in healthcare. 

Challenges Facing The Healthcare Industry

Data Interoperability

Medical data interoperability describes the ability of individuals or systems to share and exchange medical records. The exchange is crucial to the integration of data. By having access to this record, healthcare providers can reduce repetitive tasks, save time, and improve healthcare quality. 

But there is a common challenge to attaining true interoperability between healthcare systems and providers. The major impediment is data blocking, as some vendors impose charges to transmit data out of their system.

Another major obstacle is the lack of standards and architecture for sharing and managing the data across health systems. The inability to measure or analyze this data causes delays and inaccuracies. True interoperability can only be possible when data liquidity is achieved and maintained. 

Drug Stealing Or Counterfeiting

Stealing or selling counterfeit drugs poses a huge risk to the healthcare industry. Research by the World Health Organization estimates that more than 10% of food and drugs in the world are counterfeit. This is a wake-up call that needs to be addressed. 

Counterfeit drugs incur financial losses to manufacturers. It can also hinder further research and innovation for improvement, or worse, lead to the death of a patient.

Detecting stolen or counterfeit drugs is difficult because most products pass through a lengthy distribution channel. This facilitates entry into the supply chain. 

Data Record Corruption 

Data record corruption can happen anytime and anywhere. Most healthcare providers aim to prevent this by having duplicate data storage. But what happens when the drive fails? 

A recent survey shows that most data breaches in the healthcare industry result from hacking or IT-related incidents. Unauthorized access can also cause corruption.

A medical record entails the vital details of a patient – name, date of birth, employment history, etc. This can be adverse if it falls into the wrong hands. Thieves can use the data to create false identities, prescriptions, or documents.  

Supply Chain Integrity

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the skeletal resilience of healthcare supply chains. This often is a result of a lack of access to centralized data.

The shortage and volatile demand for medical supplies create logistical problems. It often stems from a lack of centralized and real-time data from siloed systems. Since it’s impossible to track unmeasured data, estimating the scope of the demand for medical products is difficult. 

According to Deloitte, blockchain isn’t a panacea for data standardization. But it offers a promising new distributed framework that supports the integration of healthcare information among users. Here’s how. 

How Blockchain Provides Solutions To Healthcare Challenges

Blockchain has been the major go-to in cases of reliability and transparency. Imagine a situation where stakeholders can access information when they require it. Undeniably, this system may be the answer to interoperability in the health industry. 

Attaining true interoperability starts with unhindered and controlled access to data. With blockchain cryptographic private/public key access, decentralized data, and proof of work/stake, healthcare records can be accessed without the fear of theft.

With this, doctors can make informed and quicker decisions in administering care. Other healthcare professionals will be able to access patients’ information, erasing location and third-party barriers.

Through blockchain, products can be traced and verified. This makes it easier to detect and rectify issues. In turn, it improves the security of the medical supply chain network.

A pharmaceutical company, for instance, can track every detail of a drug, from manufacture to sale. And this is possible if each transaction is stored on the blockchain.

So, it’s easy to identify fraud and where it occurred on the chain. This information guarantees the product’s credibility to the pharmacist and the patient.

Health organizations can automate medical care through smart contracts. This helps to fast-track the processes and improve efficiency. It also eradicates the likelihood of human-based errors. 

Benefits Of Blockchain In The Healthcare Industry

Since we have explored the various ways blockchain can solve healthcare problems, here are a few cases of utilizing blockchain potential in the industry. 

Strengthens Healthcare Cybersecurity 

Health Records are a significant target for cybercriminals. In 2019, LifeLabs, a Canadian medical testing company, was hacked. Over 15 million personal data of patients were exposed.

End-to-end encryption and other features of blockchain tighten the security network of healthcare providers. Through cryptographic keys, patients can control access to their own health records.

Using smart contracts, patients and health organizations can limit access to data, depending on the terms of the agreement. Also, decentralized storage eliminates the risk of data breaches. 

Helps To Secure And Store Information

One of the primary reasons most industries use blockchain is because it provides unprecedented transparency. Compared to other security options, information of each block is encrypted to the preceding block, making it almost impossible to change or alter the records.

Each user on the network is accountable for the information stored on the blockchain. The transaction must be validated through a consensus mechanism to add a new block.

To change information on the hash, you must change every version on the network to verify the transaction. This is practically impossible. The technology makes it valuable in the healthcare industry.

Healthcare providers can store records on the blockchain without requiring an intermediary. Through P2P cross-border transfers, transactions can be concluded on the technology in seconds. 

Interoperable Electronic Health Records

Achieving true interoperability in the healthcare sector is a huge concern. But blockchain technology provides a holistic approach to securing patients’ data.

Before and after clinical treatment, patient data is gathered and stored for future reference. Since the information in a decentralized ledger is present on the chain, it is only accessible to users within a network. It’s also possible to streamline data sharing across several platforms.

In addition, every transaction on the block is validated by proof of work or proof of stake. Since there’s no requirement for an external verification agency, it mitigates attacks from cyber criminals and strengthens the security of the database. 

Boost Reliability Supply Chain Management

The medical supply chain entails the integration of several operations, from pharmaceutical research to marketing. Blockchain decentralized storage makes it easy to track these processes from start to finish.

The technology has improved volatile demand and product shortage by integrating processes into a single record. This record is only made available to a network of trusted users. Every transaction carried out will be securely stored on the blockchain. Blockchain facilitates transparency across every stage of the supply chain.  

Use Cases Of Blockchain In Healthcare

High-Level Accessibility And Transparency

Data exchange between providers contributes to an efficient and cost-effective ecosystem in healthcare systems.

Blockchain systems promote high-level transparency and accessibility. It facilitates the transfer of information between health organizations in a decentralized ledger. Users on the network can monitor every exchange. It almost eliminates the risks of fraud.

Akiri, a network-as-a-service platform, is one solution already using blockchain to secure and simplify the transmission of information. Since its launch in 2017, the platform has helped several health organizations secure patients’ data during transfer.

Remote Monitoring Solutions 

This is also called remote healthcare, the transition of traditional medical care to a holistic model. 

Using smart devices, health parameters can be tracked without the attention of medical personnel. Blockchain systems can help validate the accuracy of the data recorded by these devices.

This is similar to MIT Media Lab’s collaboration with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical center to create MedRec. It was built on the Ethereum blockchain, recorded patient medication data for six months, and transmitted results across different databases. 

Improved Clinical Trials Recruiting

Blockchain-based systems eliminate data that doesn’t match research objectives in clinical trials. This facilitates the ability of researchers to make real-time decisions. Clinical trials can be performed anywhere around the world with the confidence of attaining similar scientific results.

Trail decentralization is also possible, thanks to blockchain. For instance, during the covid 19 pandemic, it was implemented to ensure the continuity of clinical research.

Ambrosus, a multinational Internet of Things Supply Chain manufacturer, is expanding using blockchain. They partner with top-level pharmaceutical industries to create a blockchain-based system that tracks clinical development programs.

Medical Staff Credentials 

Blockchain technology can be used to track the expertise of a medical professional. Healthcare organizations can upload the credentials of their staff on the blockchain, creating a seamless hiring process. This is a top priority for the industry, as it reduces redundancy and errors associated with credentialing.

The US software company, ProCredEx, developed a medical verification system. The platform improves the hiring process by transforming data into actionable insights using the R3 Corda blockchain protocol. Since its launch, it has improved credentialing operations. 

Preventing Medical Insurance Fraud 

Medical fraud is a prevalent issue in the world today. America accounts for over $68 billion in losses every year.

One widely known benefit of blockchain is creating a high-transparency system of transactions. It creates an unalterable record of transactions. Each transaction is digitally encrypted. This makes it almost impossible to infringe. 

When it comes to insurance, data accessibility is vital. Beyond the security of patient data, blockchain gives insurance companies real-time information on the insured’s health. Through smart sensors, blood pressure, heartbeat per min, etc., can be traced. This process reduces the possibility of emergency health complications.

IBM Blockchain is helping health organizations by promoting faster and verifiable data exchanges. With this platform, it’s possible to automate claim settlements.  

Patient-Centric Electronic Health Records

According to research by John Hopkins hospital, one of the primary causes of death in the US is medical errors. Medical institutions can create a blockchain-based system to store patient data through blockchain. It can be linked to the EMR software, giving a singular view accessible to all networks on the system. This facilitates the transfer of information in a coordinated and secure way. 

a screenshot of the causes of deaths in the US
Source: Lavender and Lab coats

If a patient consents, tiny details like a prescription can be added to the blockchain. They get to know when the records are updated and by whom. Also, they can control who accesses their information and set a time-limited gateway for it. With this, insurers can receive patient information without interference from intermediaries.  

Medicalchain, a UK-based company, is helping health organizations secure and manage health records. Healthcare organizations can use this platform to retrieve patients’ health records. They can document consultations directly to the patient’s health record.

Roadblocks To Using Blockchain In Healthcare

Despite the many benefits of blockchain in healthcare, it’s not fully maximized yet. Listed below are several reasons why. 

Data Transmission Latency

The distribution of centralized data tends to be faster than in distributed systems. A blockchain with numerous nodes will take a longer time to transmit data. Blockchain probably requires more time to share data through an extensive network. This is a huge concern for providers who need to store and track millions of patient data. 

It Cannot Be Reversed

Data immutability is one of the perks of blockchain. But it is concerning that you cannot reverse it once it’s created. This can discourage some from utilizing the technology. 

Requires High Investment

The cost of establishing, maintaining, and upgrading a blockchain system varies. But it requires high investment. This discourages pharmaceuticals and providers that can’t afford it.

Technical Knowledge 

Establishing and maintaining a blockchain-based system requires the expertise of a professional. These professionals are hard to find because of the technicality of the system. Training incumbent staff will also incur additional costs. 

What’s The Future Of Blockchain In Healthcare? 

Blockchain can change the healthcare industry in many ways. One of the most exciting aspects is the possibility of expansion. The technology is still evolving, and not even a fraction of its benefits have been tapped.

Health institutions will utilize the blockchain to override the current methodologies in administering care. Payments of health services will be value-based and can be through cryptocurrencies and tokens (NFTs). Stakeholders can use this medium to pay for a consultation or other medical services.

Although blockchain holds myriad potential, it’s not a panacea that can be immediately applied. But healthcare providers can adopt this tech to improve the current system. This will create a more fluid health ecosystem.

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