Blockchain is so revolutionary that it has been referred to as “the new internet.” To the uninitiated, blockchain might automatically bring another term to mind: cryptocurrency.
But while cryptocurrency is one of the most well-known applications of the blockchain technology, and though it plays a large part in earning its public recognition, there are many other ways through which blockchain has made a resounding impact on the digital world. And its potential is only growing across various industries.
The healthcare sector, in particular, holds vast opportunities for blockchain technology. By providing insights and solutions to issues such as breaches in health information exchanges (HIE) and inefficient practices, blockchain could help to transform the healthcare industry significantly.
What is blockchain?
Blockchain is a type of peer-to-peer ledger system that is globally distributed, immutable, and public. Essentially, it is a transparent system for storing and recording transactions through cryptographic techniques, such as the use of keys, to hold the system in place.
It is made up of blocks of data linked in a sequence. The system operates through the process of mining, wherein transactions are processed and blocks are added to the ledger.
Ultimately, blockchain is revolutionizing industries by providing security, transparency, and efficiency.
Blockchain and Healthcare
So, what does this mean for the healthcare industry?
According to Deloitte, the value of blockchain applied to the healthcare industry lies in interoperability. With several growth factors for blockchain in healthcare, it is set to be among the top industries that could benefit most from the technology. Health information storage and exchange, cost, and elimination of fraud are just some opportunities for blockchain in healthcare.
Below, we take a look at more specific issues blockchain may help to address.
Data security issues are rampant across digital transactions, but for healthcare, the consequences could be catastrophic. Data breaches have a higher risk of affecting the healthcare industry because of the kind of data that is collected and stored.
Usually, medical records with extensive personal details are kept on file as healthcare professionals rely upon them. However, this is the kind of information that should not end up in the wrong hands.
It is imperative to keep the integrity of medical records intact. Data attacks could result in tampered information, which could eventually influence outcomes. Blockchain’s immutable, transparent, and secure features could provide solutions to these security problems.
Individual users would have both private and public keys, so data stays secure despite being transparent. Auditing is made easier through an immutable trail. Meanwhile, sensitive health information remains confidential.
Drug traceability and supply chain management
Blockchain can help bring transparency to the entire process that takes pharmaceuticals from the lab to the market. From manufacturing drugs to transporting them to wholesale distributors, distributing them among retailer pharmacies, and finally getting them to consumers—there are various steps involved wherein drugs can be tampered with.
Blockchain technology will enable the monitoring and tracking of pharmaceuticals right from their point of origin, then through the shipping process, handling, and even waste management.
Implementing blockchain solutions could improve drug traceability, beginning with tracking drug ingredients and ensuring that they are up to medical standards.
Also, by having a transparent record every step of the way, pharmaceutical companies can trace the source of counterfeiting and, thus, eliminate substandard and counterfeit drugs from the market.
Blockchain essentially enables a unified system where records are stored and updated in real-time, and through which users can securely and immediately retrieve information.
With the necessary information being made available through a secure system, it will effectively streamline the processes involved. Such can be valuable in minimizing the risk of error and communication.
Blockchain can reduce the need for third-party mediators, making it a cost-effective solution. It will also enable single-patient identification, reducing the odds for mismatch, duplication, or manipulation of a patient’s data.
We are only beginning to unlock the potential for genomics in healthcare, but it is becoming increasingly accessible in mainstream medicine. With the promise of more precise and personalized treatment approaches using an individual’s genome sequence, genomics is growing as an industry.
According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, it cost just around $1,000 to generate a whole-exome sequence in 2016.
With many breakthroughs in genomics, however, comes the risk of genomic data theft. Blockchain can keep genetic data points secure. It also promotes a safer selling system, where users can sell their encrypted data for scientific research purposes.
Genomics is not the only field of medical research wherein blockchain could provide innovative solutions. In general, blockchain will grant researchers validated access to a wide database of information that could further their studies.
Remote monitoring has never been more important than today. As the healthcare industry adapts to more remote protocols, blockchain’s secure nature provides a timely solution.
With more mobile applications, the use of electronic medical records (EMRs), and the need for self-monitoring and care, the security and immediacy of information exchange enabled by blockchain are necessary.
Validation for healthcare claims
Smart contracts facilitated through blockchain reduces unnecessary time and effort spent on validating health claims. A rule-based process is implemented, and terms and conditions are strictly defined. Blockchain automates and speeds up the processes of assessment and payment. It also reduces the risk of fraud and data manipulation.
The characteristics of blockchain could have tremendous implications for health crises as they unfold. It makes possible the real-time reporting of outcomes and the exploration of disease patterns. It will serve to be a practical tool in mapping outbreaks and tracking diseases in the future.
Enabling Valuable Care and Treatment
The healthcare industry—with its share of inefficient systems and practices—is rife with opportunities for innovation. Growth factors for blockchain in healthcare make it a valuable solution.
Its unique characteristics, such as immutability, transparency, and security, can be driving forces to transform the medical care industry. By improving processes and data exchanges and opening doors to medical research, blockchain could be the key to providing more valuable care and treatment.