Blockchain in healthcare
When it comes to blockchain applications, many people point to banking and finance and for good reason – after all, the technology was conceived as a new electronic cash system. Others like to focus on the blockchain’s potential to transform logistics and supply chain management. Promising applications of the technology in retail, automotive and transportation, sports and entertainment and more. We agree with all these examples and we’ve already explored (note to self: link to use cases page?) many use cases of the technology in these areas. However, in this piece we want to discuss why we believe that some of the most compelling use cases for blockchain can be found in the healthcare industry. Furthermore, we want to take a look at why healthcare presents possibly the biggest opportunity for blockchain to achieve widespread adoption and recognition.
Problems in healthcare today
The healthcare sector has always been a hotly debated topic, presenting companies, regulatory bodies and governments with a multitude of serious challenges to overcome. Problems ranging from inefficient pharma supply chains and counterfeiting through mishandling of patient data to bad communication among the various parties involved, hurt the sector and the patients on a daily basis . And whether you believe in universal healthcare or prefer a largely privatized sector driven by market forces, there’s no denying that possibly no country in the world can say it has a perfectly functioning healthcare system. On the contrary, the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the world this year clearly showed that there is an urgent need for improvement and modernization across the sector.
How can Blockchain help the healthcare sector?
Throughout the millennia it has been around, medicine has always benefited strongly from scientific and technological advancements. Gaining more knowledge in chemistry, biochemistry and biology opens the door to a better understanding of the human body, development of more effective drugs and medical therapies. Breakthroughs in physics and engineering power the development of better diagnostic tools and other medical equipment.
Blockchain has the potential to address some of the fundamental challenges the healthcare industry is facing today. The advent of computers and information technologies has already had a profound impact on the sector, bolstering medical analysis and research, diagnostics, storage of information and more. Being one of the most promising new information technologies, blockchain can take this trend even further. One day it could even power a worldwide digital healthcare platform ensuring smooth operations and cooperation on a global scale. Let’s see how that could be achieved.
Improving the pharmaceutical sector
We’re only mentioning this area briefly, because we’ve already covered the sector in much more detail in our piece on “Blockchain in pharma” (note: link to article). We highly recommend reading that for a thorough look on how blockchain can be utilized in that specific part of the broader healthcare sector. Here is the gist of it:
Blockchain’s core features such as immutability, transparency, as well as its ability to facilitate frictionless sharing of data and cooperation across networks of various stakeholders can significantly boost the efficiency and security of pharmaceutical supply chains, which are known for their complexity. This would streamline supply chain management, eliminate, or at the very least greatly reduce, bad actors, counterfeit products and theft across the supply chain. This approach also has the added benefit of making it much easier for companies to comply with regulations.
Blockchain can also be used to improve clinical trials and cooperation between R&D centers, which would greatly help medical research and drug discovery.
Secure and efficient data management
Ensuring patient privacy and personal data protection is of the utmost importance in the healthcare sector. Unfortunately, inefficient processes, bad practices and vulnerabilities against cyber attacks hamper companies’ ability to manage medical data. The implementation of blockchain technology could help resolve these pressing issues.
Blockchain-based solutions for storage and sharing of medical records can greatly improve the industry’s ability to fend off hackers. Such solutions will also allow for patients to retain control of their health records, granting them the full authority to decide who can access their medical data.
As an added benefit, blockchain technology can enable better ways for monitoring patients. Systems that track and process, in near real-time, readings about patients’ heath coming from wearables and other connected devices could be developed using blockchain technology and the Internet-of-Things. Again, the final decision of whether to disclose such readings would lie with the patients.
Naturally, improving efficiency across the supply chain, eliminating counterfeiting, theft and other fraudulent activities will certainly lead to sizable reduction in costs for both patients and healthcare businesses. Furthermore, by employing smart contracts, companies will be able to handle transactions to partners directly, eliminating the need for expensive middlemen.
In a report published in 2018, BIS Research estimated that the widespread adoption of blockchain technology “could save the healthcare industry up to $100 billion per year by 2025 in data breach related costs, IT costs, operations costs, support function and personnel costs, counterfeit related frauds and insurance frauds”.
Facilitating large-scale cooperation
One of healthcare’s fundamental issues stems from the fact that it depends on many different elements – private and public organizations, regulators, governments, etc. – to function. This makes the sector slow to react to rapidly changing conditions. For example, a highly fragmented sector driven primarily by market forces, which is the model adopted in the US, is likely to create difficulties for patients changing their residence, among other problems. At the same time, regions like Europe, which mostly relies on universal healthcare models, face their own challenges. On a global scale, the main challenge lies in achieving frictionless cooperation not only between separate service providers, but also between nations and governments.
Blockchain can help here, too, thanks to its ability to promote transparency, enhance the distribution of information across a network and simplify regulatory compliance procedures. The technology can support industry-wide initiatives like the implementation of new industry standards and coordinate efforts to combat health crises like the one we are experiencing right now. Meanwhile, the continued evolution of cross-chain systems is likely to introduce new ways for supporting cooperation on a supranational level
How can blockchain be implemented in healthcare?
Blockchain’s potential to transform the healthcare industry hasn’t gone unnoticed. Companies, public organizations and even governments are actively looking into possible applications for the technology. Here are some of the use cases currently being explored.
Protecting patient data
A number of tech start-ups are already developing solutions aimed at protecting patient data. One such example is BurstIQ, a company located in Colorado Springs, US. BurstIQ’s blockchain-based platform is designed to manage massive amounts of data. The platform uses cryptography to enforce ownership and allows data owners to control everything about how their data is shared.
Across the pond, Medicalchain, a London-based company, is building a similar platform aimed at promoting “a collaborative, smart approach to healthcare”.
At Limechain, we’ve had the opportunity to work on a couple of exciting projects aiming to utilize blockchain to improve health records. You can read more about our collaboration with IRIS, a decentralized electronic health record system, here. It’s also worth checking out how we assisted Healthbase and its efforts to improve medical and healthcare research.
Tackling global health crises
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that health organizations and governments around the world need a better approach for tackling health crises of such magnitude. Faced with this startling realization, some organizations are already turning to blockchain for possible solutions.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization partnered with major technology and blockchain companies, including Microsoft, Oracle and IBM, to launch MiPasa, a DLT-based platform for sharing information regarding the pandemic. As Cointelegraph reported at the time, the platform, which runs on Hyperledger Fabric, seeks to enable “early detection of COVID-19 carriers and infection hotspots”.
To learn more about other ways in which blockchain can be utilized to fight COVID-19, check out our article on the topic.
Improving healthcare models
This is the main reason why blockchain in healthcare might be primed for widespread adoption. Because ensuring good public health is such a priority for many countries, governments are actively employing new technologies for the betterment of the healthcare sector. This is significant because gaining acceptance at a government level is what blockchain is trying to achieve in each area it’s aiming to disrupt. What’s more, tangible progress has already been made.
The Northern European country of Estonia has been using blockchain in healthcare since 2012. The country already has most of its health records stored on a distributed ledger and uses blockchain to handle all of its healthcare billing. In addition, 99% of its prescription information is stored digitally.
We already touched upon the beneficial impact new technologies have on the healthcare sector. When it comes to blockchain, the technology has the potential to impact the sector on a fundamental level. It could help build the digital infrastructure of a global healthcare system equipped to address today’s issues and confidently face the challenges of tomorrow. It could help ensure fair treatment of patients, efficient medical research and cost-effective business operations. The possibilities are truly limitless.
If you’re looking for a partner to help you realize your own ideas for a blockchain-powered healthcare revolution, you’ve come to the right place. Tell us more about your idea at [email protected].