Blockchain represents great promise for stakeholders in healthcare fields. Using this technology has the potential to increase the standard of care through its applications in patient data management, drug distribution/prescription, etc. In the long run, using a blockchain network nationwide for electronic medical records (EMR) could help achieve better health outcomes for patients and improve efficiencies in healthcare delivery.
What is Blockchain?
A Blockchain can be defined as a continuously growing list of records, or blocks, which use cryptography to link and secure the individual blocks. It can also be described as “an open, distributed ledger where transaction records can be verified between two parties and stored permanently,” according to Nodemads.
Blockchain is a distributed computing system which is secured by design. This makes Blockchain suitable for the performing task such as recording medical records and other management activities, including transaction processing, documenting provenance, voting, identity management, and food traceability.
Advantages of Blockchain
Provenance & Increased Data Integrity
Transactions in the Blockchain network are immutable. This means that once a transaction is approved, it cannot be altered or deleted because transactions are shared across the network and securely recorded using cryptography. The data integrity is safe, and time-stamp can be verified by any user. The original author of a transaction in a blockchain network is recorded and remains accessible for the entire life of the blockchain.
Transactions on the blockchain network must first be verified by other blockchain users before they are recorded. Once verified, the transactions are encrypted and linked to a previous transaction using cryptography. The blockchain is virtually impossible to hack the because data is stored across a network of devices.
Before an existing version is changed, everyone in the blockchain network must agree since the records are shared. An overhaul of the whole network would be required to change a single transaction on a blockchain network, making the data on the network transparent, consistent and largely accurate. All participants can access any transaction on the blockchain as long as they have a private key, as every transaction is decentralized. This makes it easier to share information across multiple platforms.
Implementing these Advantages in Healthcare
Record Keeping & Tracking
Medical History Tracking
With Blockchain, patients’ treatment history can be tracked anywhere and at any time with no ambiguity, therefore providing health practitioners a better context of each patient.
Data Security: Did you know that your medical data is worth more than your credit card number in the black market? According to a report by Protenus Breach Barometer, about 140 million patient health records were hacked between 2015 and 2016.
Blockchain has the potential to keep private information safe and secure while still being accessible anywhere.
Medical Device Usage Tracking
The use of medical devices such as electronic wearables have been on the rise, with new reports revealing that forty percent of medical patients use such devices to track their health. However, this makes it difficult to store all the daily medical reports from devices for each patients. Health data tracked from the patient’s device can be stored in a blockchain network where it would be timestamped and verified making the data immutable.
Drug Supply Chain Tracking
According to Health Research Funding Organization (HRFO), over ten to thirty percent of drugs sold in developing countries are counterfeit. In addition, pharmaceutical companies lose about 200 billion dollars annually due to counterfeiting. Blockchain can curb this trend with features like point-by-point, which tracks possibilities and proof of authenticity. This allows users to verify drug authenticity before purchase or consumption.
Patient & Drug Identity Validation
Digital Identity Validation
Blockchain can solve the issue of patient identity theft and can reduce the use of fake IDs by impersonators. Since blockchain records are immutable and can verified, this feature can be utilized for patients’ identity records and verification, therefore reducing impersonation of patient IDs to purchase medications for drug abuse purposes.
Drug identity can be validated using blockchain technology. Having transparent information about particular drugs can reduce the amount of counterfeit drugs in circulation.
Direct Healthcare Service Payment
Blockchain technology has been used extensively for financial transactions, with the most famous use case being Bitcoin, and this model can also be transferred to healthcare.
Backing Research & Treatment of Healthcare Data
There have been several logistical challenges when coordinating and sharing research or clinical trials since it requires a collaborative effort across many institutions. This can lead to theft of intellectual property and dishonesty. Using blockchain can change this by enabling users with the ability to authenticate their documents, ensuring the proof of existence. Test results, statistics, and quality reports can be shared amongst researchers without any fear of intellectual property theft.
Implementation Challenges and Considerations
Although Blockchain technology is not fully mature today, it presents numerous opportunities for healthcare. Some features can be implemented today, but before blockchain can be adopted by organizations internationally, it must evolve to address potential behavioral, technical, organizational, and economical considerations.