Medical Research

IS BLOCKCHAIN THE FUTURE OF HEALTHCARE? | by Arjun Anilkumar | Sep, 2021

Health care is the maintenance or improvement of health via the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, recovery, or cure of disease, illness, injury, and other physical and mental impairments in people. Health care is delivered by health professionals and allied health fields. It is a field that is constantly evolving with new advancements year after year. Through this article, let’s figure out whether Blockchain will be the future of Healthcare.

Everybody in recent years would have come across many hyped terms such as Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies, NFTs, etc. All these digital entities are based on Blockchain Technology. So what is Blockchain technology? Blockchain seems complicated, and it definitely can be, but its core concept is quite simple. It is a specific type of database that is stored electronically on a computer system. It differs from a typical database in the way it stores information. A blockchain is a decentralized, distributed, and oftentimes public, digital ledger consisting of records called blocks that are used to record transactions. Now the real question arises, How does it help in the Healthcare industry? To answer this let’s understand the digital healthcare scenario and its drawbacks.

In the digital era, the term digital healthcare is not something new. Digital healthcare is a broad, multidisciplinary concept that includes concepts from an intersection between technology and healthcare. Information and communications technologies are applied in medicine and other health professions to manage illness and health risks. Digital tools are giving providers a more holistic view of patient health through access to data and giving patients more control over their health. Examples of digital technologies in healthcare include searching medical knowledge resources, facilitating clinical support, monitoring quality of care, and mapping and monitoring the spread of infectious diseases, as well as tracking supplies of drugs and vaccines. With the advent of wearables and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices, health care is moving further toward personalized and preventative paradigms utilizing ubiquitous technologies which support real-time self-care or monitoring. The ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic increases the need for ongoing digital health advancements.

Every technological advancement has its pros and cons so is Digital Healthcare. It faces several challenges too. The moment we talk about digital data, security and privacy are the first parameters that arise in our minds. So now let’s see how Blockchain technology can act as a solution for such challenges.

1) Patient-centric electronic health records

Healthcare systems in every country and region are struggling with the problem of data siloes, meaning that patients and their healthcare providers have an incomplete view of medical histories. The major challenges that lie in data interoperability are the Lack of trust among stakeholders, lack of standardized health information, misinterpretation, and differences in existing privacy laws.

Blockchain — being, a distributed ledger with data replication across a network of node computers — is a natural solution to this massive roadblock of siloed data in health care. This technology can provide a new model for health information exchanges (HIE) by placing the patient at the center of the healthcare ecosystem. All care providers participating in a blockchain will be able to share health records in a decentralized manner. Plus patient data that gets onto the blockchain becomes immutable. This reduces data transaction costs and enables near real-time updates across the network to all parties.

2) Clinical Trial Management and Medical Research

Clinical trial management generates loads of data, which implies keeping accurate records by the administration to meet the regulatory requirements is a tedious task. Do you know one thing, There are more than 8,000 healthcare publications each day. We need a system to translate all the data into key insights that can be applied to a patient. And that is where Blockchain tools come into the picture. They together with electronic data capture, can allow automatic aggregation, replication, and distribution of clinical data among researchers and practitioners. This eliminates the room for data manipulation and Provide an immutable record of trial history

Likewise, healthcare blockchain solutions can push medical innovations forwards by providing access to medical research data for all interested parties. Pharmaceuticals invest a lot into finding patients that are willing to undergo a clinical study. At the same time, Patients have minimal or no traceability of the types of research that could play a positive role in their health improvement.

3) Pharmacy Supply Chain

We all have heard about Counterfeit drugs and the Illegal drug market. Studies have estimated the total global sales of this large illegal market to be between $200 billion and $431 billion annually. Have you ever thought of a solution to eradicate this Illegal market? Blockchain technology may prove indispensable for tracking drugs on their way from a pharmaceutical company to patients. Drugs become traceable as they move across the supply chain. This could help reduce the counterfeit drug implications that currently cost pharmaceutical companies up to 431 billion in losses annually.

4) Medical staff credential verification

Similar to tracking the provenance of a medical good, blockchain technology can be used to track the experience of medical professionals, where trusted medical institutions and healthcare organizations can log the credentials of their staff, in turn helping to streamline the hiring process for healthcare organizations.

5) IoT security for remote monitoring

One of the biggest trends in digital health is the adoption of remote monitoring solutions, where all kinds of sensors measuring patients’ vital signs are being used to help give healthcare practitioners more visibility into patients’ health, enabling more proactive and preventative care. However, security is a huge issue in health IoT, both in terms of ensuring that patient data is private and secure and that it is not tampered with to create false information. Blockchain cryptography ensures that only permitted parties can gain access to personal data, which is stored on the blockchain as a unique hash function. Once patient data is recorded on the blockchain ledger (as a hash function) then it is nearly impossible to tamper with since it would require gaining access to all stored copies. This can be a check to the black market that focuses on illegal organ transplantation.

6) Smart contracts for insurance and supply chain settlements

Companies such as Chronicled and Curisium provide blockchain-based systems where various players in the healthcare sector, such as pharmaceutical companies, medical device OEMs, wholesalers, insurers, and healthcare providers, can authenticate their identities as organizations, log contract details, and track transaction of goods and services, and payment settlement details for those goods and services.

Having said about the potential of Blockchain technology in Healthcare, It is time to look into its drawbacks as well. It is a very new technology in practice. Though financial institutions have been implementing this technology for quite some time now, even large corporations are struggling to integrate it into their core systems. The high buy-in for the technology coupled with the huge amount of processing power required to keep it up is proving to be a deterrent. Although it can handle personal data like IDs and certificates, large data like CT scans will be difficult to store in blockchains.

Blockchain is quite a new and interesting technology that has huge potential in transforming Healthcare into a patient-centric care system. healthcare payers and providers have been aiming to achieve this for quite some time now. Now Let’s try to answer our question — Is Blockchain technology the future of Healthcare? Well, I would say we are still in the starting phase to answer this question. All we know now is that Blockchain technology has the potential to improve healthcare systems. Remember technology can be productive or disruptive depending on the way we implement it.

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