When it comes to blockchain, people usually think of fintech, banking, and, of course, cryptocurrencies. Indeed, the financial sector was among the first to adopt this new disruptive technology, with P2P payments, money transfer apps, and neobanking. This is of itself a rather drastic change in an industry that has always been a slow and cautious follower of digital innovations. It wasn’t so long ago that the concept of decentralization was considered a heresy in the banking sector. Yet the benefits of it are too important to sweep under the rug.
Merits of Blockchain Tech
- Since the blockchain is decentralized, no single individual owns it.
- That (and the consensus mechanisms implemented for each transaction) makes the blockchain trustworthy and practically immutable.
- And while everything is stored in the blockchain making it transparent for all participants, sensitive data is encrypted, so that only the owner can read it and decide how and with whom to share it.
Blockchain removes the need for a single entity to be in charge of the data and lets all participants benefit from it. In a way, it creates a trustful system that is based on trustless collaborations.
With these advantages of blockchain, it is only logical that its possibilities have begun to attract the attention of more and more industries, even other slow adopters like life science and healthcare.
In this blog post, we’ll focus on blockchain use cases in healthcare. Blockchain applications in healthcare can solve some of the biggest challenges in that industry, like patient and clinical data management.
Patients currently have no control or ownership over their own medical data, which makes it nearly impossible for information to be shared among different hospitals. Furthermore, security, trust, authenticity, and accountability issues worsen the situation for patients.
Blockchain provides an alternative to the current isolated process for collecting and storing patient data. A platform that is based on blockchain and is shared between patients, hospitals, and other healthcare parties contains immutable, secure, and traceable data, solving the problem with authenticity. At the same time, the data stored on a blockchain can easily be pseudonymized, solving the problem with patient identification.
In this new model, patients and their medical data are at the center of healthcare. This means more control and ownership is granted to patients — they get to decide who can obtain and read their medical data. At the same time, hospitals can more easily access shared information and provide better care and value to the patient.
With the rise of IoT and data gathered from wearables or mobile applications, the issue with data interoperability becomes more and more important. Blockchain is an opportunity to solve it.
Data Corruption or Tampering
Because there is no central authority in a blockchain platform, a consensus among all participants must be reached before any data gets updated or added to the system. Setting aside all the technicalities behind the consensus algorithms, this means that the system stores immutable trails of all interactions ever made.
One of the major problems in healthcare on a global scale is the lack of universally recognized patient identifiers. Even solutions like EHR can’t completely solve this problem and have, in the past, resulted in mismatching of patient records.
Blockchain, on the other hand, provides the necessary mechanisms for generating secure and consistent medical records, which are impossible to get corrupted or tampered because each interaction in the system ever made leaves an audit trail for everybody to see.
Similarly, blockchain could solve another big problem in healthcare, i.e. manage clinical trial data, while complying with regulations. Because clinical trials usually require long commitment and heavy investment, there is a risk of having the final results altered or tampered. However, corrupting trial data is nearly impossible in a globally accessible data platform that provides immutable trails of all interactions. Furthermore, trial participants can be rewarded for following the plan closely, ensuring a long-term commitment.
Corrupting clinical trial results is not the only fraud from which the healthcare industry suffers. A problem on a greater scale is fighting insurance fraud.
Blockchain can help prevent false claim entries by patients and/or providers by simply storing all transactions in a secure way, providing traceability of each transaction.
Drug Stealing & Counterfeiting
Counterfeit drugs pose a huge risk to healthcare. Not only does stealing and faking drugs cause huge financial losses to manufacturers, but more importantly, it may change the original composition and ingredients of a product, directly (and sometimes fatally) affecting the patient’s health.
Blockchain has the potential to solve this problem by providing a transparent, shared database, where manufacturers and pharmaceutical suppliers can track and verify drug origin.
In fact, the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), due to become effective in 2024, already suggests that digital tracking and traceability of drugs will be required in the near future.
Long Way Ahead
Together with all the opportunities blockchain technology opens up, there are many challenges for adopting blockchain in healthcare, which is among the most sensitive industries (not to mention the most heavily regulated). From a technical standpoint, the slower speed of transactions and the great computational power required to operate a blockchain network can negatively affect the cost of implementation. Private blockchains may help ease some of those concerns, but healthcare still has a long way to go to fully adopt this new technology.
But with or without blockchain, it is becoming obvious that decentralization in healthcare is getting more and more appealing and is able to provide answers to some of its major problems.