Blockchain technology has the potential to solve many of the issues currently plaguing the healthcare industry. Some of these relate to medical research, drug integrity, medical supply chain, clinical trials and medical data (accessibility, interoperability, security). These problems are not specific to small healthcare companies, they also affect larger facilities.
Blockchain has unprecedented data efficiency which can cause much-needed disruption in the healthcare sector. It can also ensure security, data access flexibility, transparency, and interconnection. Healthcare payers and providers use blockchain to manage medical records and trial data - while at the same time meant following regulatory compliance and maintaining personal privacy.
The possibility of blockchain has diverse implications for stakeholders in the healthcare sector. In the words of Cindy Fischer, Senior VP/Chief Clinical Advocate at GIFTED Healthcare OKC, “The blockchain technology has the potential to connect fragmented systems to better assess the value of care through generated insight.” In the nearest future, a countrywide blockchain network for electronic medical records could improve efficiency and better support healthcare outcomes for patients.
What is blockchain?
Blockchain is a distributed system for storing and recording transaction records. It is an unchangeable and shared record of peer-to-peer transactions built from interlinked transaction blocks stored in a digital ledger.
The blockchain technology relies on established cryptographic techniques, which allow the participants in a network to interact (exchange and store information) without prior existing trust among the parties. The blockchain system has no central authority - all transaction records are stored and distributed across all network participants equally. In addition, all interactions on a blockchain network are known by their participants only. Network verification is required before information can be added, which encourages trustless collaboration among network participants while recording an unchangeable record of all interactions.
What are the advantages of blockchain technology in medical healthcare?
1. Pharmaceutical companies require extremely secure supply chains because of the sensitivity of the products they carry. Drugs are constantly being stolen from the supply chains to be sold illegally on the black market. Blockchain technology uses a transparent system that will help these companies to closely track the drugs through their point of origin and help eliminate the falsification of medication.
2. With the use of blockchain technology, patients can be incentivized to good behaviour or through a reward mechanism. For example, they could get tokens for consistently following the care plan or staying active.
3. Blockchain technology gives patients control over how their medical data is used and shared by institutes. Any interested party who is looking to make use of a patient's medical data could check in with the blockchain to get the necessary permission.
4. Medical records that are generated and added to the chain will be completely secure.
5. Blockchain is traceable and immutable, this means that patients can readily send medical records to anyone without worrying about tampering or detail corruption.
The application blockchain in the health sector
Health supply chain management
Product supply (from conception to the end of life) is the most common use for blockchain management across various industries. In the healthcare sector, medical devices, blood products, clinical supplies and medications are some of the places where blockchain is leveraged for forecasting, compliance and operations among pharmacies, players, providers, blood banks, and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Data access/monetisation and clinical research
Recruitment and retention are two of the biggest challenges faced in clinical trials and in spite of numerous attempts over the years, there has been no improvement. Clinical trial data sharing and the ability for trial positive participants to experience value discovery (including personal, health and data monetization) are some of the things that blockchain can provide.
Insurance, health, and financial records
With the successes seen in the financial sector, the increasing cost of healthcare and the challenges regarding fraud, healthcare finance can benefit from blockchain technology.
Digital identity management
Identity is core to almost any blockchain application in healthcare, this also includes the management of individuals (provider, participants, patients and so on), in unique device identifiers (UTIs) for medical devices in the health supply chain, organizations, participants or various details in a network.
The application of the blockchain technology in healthcare majorly revolves around managing data. Because of the nature of the blockchain technology, it can help improve the healthcare IT industry tremendously - facilitating faster access to data and interoperability on a broad scale.