With the recent influx of attention on the blockchain, many have been left wondering if the technology is ready to be implemented in any of the industries that need it the most. In the case of healthcare, the answer to that question is both positive and negative. Blockchain can be implemented in the healthcare industry, but there are a few things that first need to be worked out.
Right now, the healthcare industry has several pain points as well as a lot of potentials. The question is whether blockchain technology and the healthcare industry are a match made in heaven. Let’s look at both sides of the coin.
The healthcare industry has a long history of being slow to make changes; new technologies and best practices are often met with resistance.
The healthcare industry is one of the prime beneficiaries of blockchain technology, which can be applied as a distributed ledger for health records. The technology is intended to reduce risks of fraud, ensure the privacy of data, reduce administrative costs and improve data quality. The technology has applications in areas such as electronic health records, clinical trials, data sharing, identity management, and the pharmaceutical supply chain.
The healthcare industry has a long history of being slow to make changes due to the way it operates, and new technologies and best practices are often met with resistance. This is mainly due to the fact that the healthcare industry is largely dependent on technology that is outdated and the organisations themselves are slow to adopt change.
Additionally, the healthcare industry is highly regulated and there are a number of parties involved in one transaction. Blockchain is a decentralised ledger that allows multiple parties to work together without a third party to verify and validate transactions. This can help patients, providers, payers, and other healthcare organisations to work together to make healthcare more accessible and affordable, as well as streamline changes throughout the industry.
Blockchain technology consists of data blocks containing hashes (digital fingerprints or unique identifiers), recent transactions, and previous blocks. In this design, each block is connected in sequence as each block has the data of the previous block. This technology of connected blocks is called a blockchain.
It is not possible to change one of the blocks in the middle of the chain because all blocks behind the converted block will have to be rotated simultaneously. In this way, the data in the blockchain network does not change. If the data in one block hash is mishandled or altered, it will make all subsequent block hashes invalid. This data is available for everyone to see.
Many aspects of blockchain technology, such as the consistency of data stored in blockchain, attract the attention of the healthcare industry.
With blockchain, medical records and insurance claims will be managed more efficiently and accurately. It will also accelerate clinical and biomedical research. All this is possible due to the many benefits of blockchain technology, including decentralised record management, immutable data audit trails, data provenance, robustness, and improved security and privacy.
To leverage blockchain in healthcare, medical information must be available for use by data subjects outside of hospitals. This is an important step in patient-centered interaction that differs from conventional institution-driven interaction. Many challenges arise from patient-centered interactions, such as data standards, security, and privacy, in addition to technology-related issues, such as speed, incentives, and governance. Blockchain technology can facilitate the transition from institution-driven to patient-centered interaction and help address these challenges.
With blockchain, medical records and insurance claims will be managed more efficiently and accurately. It will also accelerate clinical and biomedical research.
Blockchain allows patients to provide access to their medical data, for example, allowing certain researchers to access portions of their data for a limited period. Patients can also connect to other hospitals and collect their medical data automatically. With blockchain technology, patients can provide their full information to hospitals which are shared in a centralised database; when required, hospitals can directly extract information from that database regarding past diseases, allergies, past medications, and medical history. Such information is decentralised and immutable, which means no one can edit it and no one owns it. It is available for everyone to access provided they have an identifier.
This technology also provides a centralised database for the pharma companies and patients to assure them that the medicines they buy are original and not fake. This ensures that hospitals do not replace original medicines with fake ones as the entire information about a product is available on the blockchain and when it moves from one place to another, it is updated on the blocks. This prevents anyone from altering the expiry date, price, and ingredients on the label.
Earlier, hospitals may not have been willing to share information of patients on blocks to everyone who had an identifier without charging a fee. But with this technology, patients have the power to share their records easily. The information is updated and conclusive of patients’ medical records. The general practice of hospitals to sell patients’ data for research purposes is also prevented with this technology, as patients have the power to sell their data for a monetary reward.
How ready is blockchain?
Blockchain technology brings to the table many healthcare opportunities that are beneficial for patients, researchers, and pharma companies; however, it is not yet fully developed for the healthcare industry. Several technical, organisational, and ethical challenges must be addressed before healthcare organisations consider adapting to blockchain technology.
Vinay Mayer is Director – Marketing Research & Consulting, Asia Research Partners LLP