Blockchain in healthcare: The applications which are potentially ‘transformational’

Feature From South Korea to the US, governments this year have been trying to develop blockchain-based technologies to track citizens’ vaccination status whilst maintaining a respect for individual privacy. Aside from the controversies of this topic, the situation has thrust blockchain’s potential in the healthcare industry into the limelight moreso than ever before, at a time when the industry faces an increasing number of challenges.

With developed countries spending an increasing percentage of their GDP on healthcare, there has been a significant push in recent years to fund blockchain-based solutions that cut costs and reduce inefficiencies in the industry. Blockchain is being used to solve three key issues that traditional means of data storage and systems management in the healthcare industry still struggle with: security, miscommunication, and traceability.

Security

Security is a major issue in the healthcare industry. Between 2009 and 2017 in the US, more than 176 million patient records were exposed in data breaches. The perpetrators stole credit card and banking information, as well as health and testing records.

Blockchain’s ability to keep an incorruptible log of all patient data makes it an excellent technology for combatting the security breaches of the healthcare industry. The decentralised and private nature of blockchain also means it can conceal individual identities, protecting the sensitivity of medical data.

Companies like BurstIQ are helping healthcare companies safely and securely manage massive amounts of patient data. Its blockchain technology enables the safekeeping, sharing, and licensing of data in compliance with regulations. Since the company was founded in 2015, per its website, its platform ‘has grown into a full end-to-end blockchain enablement system, with blockchain-based big data management, consent and data sharing, cognitive computing, monetisation and global data exchange.’

“Our customers use the BurstIQ blockchain platform to build more, sell more, innovate more,” the company adds.

Miscommunication

Solutions for miscommunication in healthcare would not only reduce costs for the industry but also improve patients’ experience. The time consuming process of obtaining access to a patient’s medical records exhausts staff resources and delays patient care.

The decentralized nature of blockchain creates one ecosystem of patient data that can be quickly and efficiently referred to by doctors, hospitals, and pharmacists leading to faster diagnoses and personalized care plans.

Patientory is taking this one step further, putting the medical records in the hands of patients and giving them the means to easily track and share their data.

Chrissa McFarlane, founder and CEO at Patientory tells The Block: “We are democratising individual ownership of health data to provide real-time intelligence to health enterprises.

“Currently, chronic conditions account for over 60% of global deaths. These conditions require meticulous patient and provider management of data, yet providers and patients lack the interoperability, access, and analytics to efficiently manage these conditions in order to prevent them,” she adds.

Traceability

Blockchain’s applications in improving supply chain traceability are not unique to healthcare, but the stakes are a lot higher than other commercial industries with patient wellbeing on the line.

The potential for fake or tampered drugs entering the pharmaceutical supply chain could cost lives, so the full transparency blockchain can bring to the shipping process is of vital importance. Blockchain ledgers can even monitor the labour costs and carbon emissions involved in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals.

Chronicled has built its MediLedger Network to improve this situation, helping to promote trust and automation between medical companies through a combined secure peer-to-peer messaging service and decentralised blockchain network.

The network helps pharma companies ensure their medicines arrive efficiently whilst also enabling law enforcement to review suspicious activity in the supply chain, such as tampering or drug trafficking.

Other options

Outside of these three key issues, the applications of blockchain in healthcare continue to grow. Hashed Health, a venture studio driving innovation and collaboration in healthcare, believes the industry is set to undergo transformational growth through the support of cutting-edge technologies like blockchain.

“In the near term, blockchain-based applications are enabling enterprises to come together to solve shared problems. These new technical architectures enable exciting new business models which are now finding product-market fit in areas such as credentialing, supply chain transparency, and other data sharing initiatives where networks are solving for trust, transparency and incentive alignment,” says Hashed Health CEO John Bass.

“In the longer term, blockchains hold the promise of creating network effects amongst businesses and consumers that will help make healthcare more affordable, more equitable and more accessible,” he envisions.

Some of these burgeoning blockchain applications include providing evidence for health insurance claims, real-time disease tracking, and even protecting genomic data involved in DNA sequencing from theft.

Despite substantial progress, blockchain’s relationship with healthcare is still at an early stage. With improved integration, the industry can become more cost-effective and better benefit the lives of individuals.

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

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