As part of our ‘Disruption’ content series, we aim to bring our readers closer to the world of blockchain by breaking down how the technology is changing the way we live, work and do business. Following the previous editions on manufacturing and supply chain management, we now turn to a sector that is beyond a doubt a cornerstone of everything we do as humans going forward in the Digital Age – Healthcare.
Given the rapid pace of development of contemporary technology and how far we’ve come in optimizing Facebook ads
*sarcasm radar goes off*
and tracking people’s behavior on the Internet, one would think that we’d also have a well-honed, interoperable healthcare system in place. Though while life expectancy is indeed increasing and once incurable diseases are now but a scratch, healthcare is still very much lacking in a number of areas.
The major and most commonly cited issue refers to the lack of interoperability within healthcare, in particular among the main stakeholders involved (e.g. patients, clinics, practitioners, policymakers). And what exactly does that mean? Well, for one there is an abundance of data out there, both personal and about the general population, that is not being properly utilized.
For two, healthcare is experiencing mounting instances of data mismanagement and fraud, with the latter being tightly connected to illegal production, sale and trafficking of medicinal drugs. What do we have here then? Transparency issues, questionable origin and lack of control over data. We think we know someone who might be able to help out…
Fixing Healthcare with Blockchain
A recent market report by BIS Research exemplifies the magnitude of blockchain’s application within healthcare. Citing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 63.85% from 2018 to 2025, the report projects blockchain healthcare spending to reach as much as $5.61 billion come 2025.
This, of course, comes as no surprise, given how profit-driven mentalities have infiltrated the sacred sector of healthcare and are spreading throughout like a plague. The DLT ledger’s immutability, the hash’s versatile functionality, and the overall transparency blockchain brings about can benefit virtually all relevant stakeholders involved within healthcare.
Blockchain for Patients
Blockchain is often seen as ‘a technology of the people’ due to its decentralized nature. In the context of healthcare, blockchain for the Average Joe translates into enhanced participation and control over one’s data. Taking into account how the technology works, applying blockchain within healthcare can potentially enable patients to actively manage their medical records and the information contained therein.
By having complete control over their personal keys, patients can either grant or limit access to their medical data to any interested parties, be it their own physician, a research institute or any entity with a vested commercial interest. Following the same logic, blockchain within healthcare paves the way towards the creation of transparent information marketplaces, thereby enabling patients to monetize their data rather than fall victim to unauthorized distribution by whoever is in control of it.
The obvious benefit of privacy protection also comes into play here. Health data, as sensitive as it is, is commonly being trafficked which is just one part of the problem. Given how common data leaks are these days, blockchain’s application within healthcare also caters to diminishing the possibility of identifying patients in such cases.
Blockchain for Medical Professionals and Insurance Companies
On a global scale, there hasn’t yet been developed as a tool for universal patient recognition. Nor is there a unified Electronic Health Record (EHR), containing all the relevant data for people around the globe. Blockchain, inherently being a means of safe storage, can cause quite the noise here.
Importing medical records onto a secure, immutable ledger, therefore, does not solely benefit patients as healthcare providers, clinics, etc will be able to have on-demand access to various patient-specific data relevant to their operations and services. The end product? Better overall healthcare via customized medicine and healing.
In the context of clinical trials, where a lot of people, processes, and data is involved, blockchain is able to bring about better structure and control over everyone and everything.
And insurance? Well, the main thing here is avoiding fraud. Let’s be real here too – we all ‘know a guy (or a gal)’ who’s managed to get that fat insurance premium without being that sick in the first place.
Blockchain for Pharmaceuticals Producers and Distributors
Data from the Health Research Funding Organization suggests that the market for counterfeit drugs is valued at a staggering $200 billion (per annum). The World Health Organization (WHO) further estimates that nearly a fifth of all counterfeit drugs either contain the wrong ingredients or the wrong dosage. Needless to say, the consequences of this are quite obnoxious, if not fatal.
Since blockchain’s viability within the supply chain has now been tested on numerous occasions, applying it for medicine can ideally put an end to illicit drug production and trade. The ledger’s immutability and the timestamping feature here come nowhere short of revolutionary, with the potential to wipe out hundreds of billions off criminals’ pockets.
Though Which Type of Blockchain Is Best Suited for Healthcare?
If you’ve been keeping up with our blog, you should already know there are different types of blockchain, each with its own specific use case. In the context of healthcare, it is worth discussing the division between public and private blockchains.
Noting the distinguishing feature of public blockchains (such as Bitcoin and Ethereum) being their openness to virtually anybody, it is probably not too good of an idea to design a healthcare blockchain in such a way. The sensitivity of the data and the mere possibility of it falling into the wrong hands are the main factors behind excluding a public blockchain design for healthcare.
Public blockchains furthermore require significant computational power to be efficient. In healthcare, where the availability of information should be as instant as possible, slow networks and high latency can have deadly implications, for example in cases of drug administration.
Private blockchains, on the other hand, are quite ideal for healthcare as access thereto can be controlled by the person/entity holding the private data key. Distribution of data could therefore easily be controlled by its manager, per their demand and while exercising full control.