Blockchain technology began with digital currency, but it is slowly but surely showing its usefulness in nearly every industry. While it is easier to imagine blockchain applications for things that are already done online, such as exchanging funds or purchasing digital music, this technology is set to revolutionize the healthcare industry.
This is a growing trend, with more and more organizations in the healthcare industry taking advantage of the technology.
In fact, a 2017 study from the IBM Institute for Business Value titled “Healthcare Rallies for Blockchain” found that 16 percent of healthcare executives surveyed (in 16 countries) expected to be using a commercial blockchain solution by the end of the year. Nine out of ten respondents planned to invest by 2018 in several business areas.
Of course, this research was conducted over a year ago, so the question now is whether the study’s forecast came true. Even with all the expected changes, those in the healthcare industry do not necessarily expect disruptions and have not seen them so far.
Healthcare has already made numerous advances in blockchain technology with even more to come, all of them dramatically improving the industry or at least adding convenience to the lives of patients and doctors.
Blockchain Solutions for Patient Data
One of the most important areas where blockchain technology can enhance healthcare is patient data. Some countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have national systems that make it possible to exchange patient records. Others, like the United States, have a fragmented system that makes it nearly impossible to do so.
Both situations come with their own set of issues. The national systems in the UK and Canada may be vulnerable to hacking attempts. Meanwhile, fragmented systems like that of the U.S. make it inefficient, time-consuming and expensive to obtain a patient’s records.
Blockchain solutions for this problem have been in the works for years. In 2016, John Halamaka, the chief information officer for Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, worked with MIT scientists to create a project called MedRec.
This outlined a proposal for a system in the United States that would eliminate the challenges of sharing information across dozens of electronic record systems.
This planned system included Ethereum software with the ability to integrate and execute smart contracts for building a private blockchain. This blockchain would link healthcare providers so they could share data.
The system would provide security via its distribution, and only a patient could create a cryptographic signature for their instructions.
MedRec is one of the biggest advances in blockchain tech for healthcare, and it rightfully receives a great deal of attention. The system would give medical providers and patients one-stop access to a patient’s entire medical history including all medical providers.
There wouldn’t be any concerns about moving across the country and having to send a copy of your medical records or health information. There would also be no need to repeat your entire patient history when referred to a specialist.
This would also resolve the very crucial issue of patients accidentally leaving out key information, such as a surgery from decades ago or an allergy. Some patients have been known to flat-out lie about their records if there is something they feel embarrassed about or have reason to hide, such as a history of drug abuse.
This sharing of data would streamline the process, saving time and effort for patients who no longer need to fill out extra paperwork and medical staff who do not need to process the extra papers.
Blockchain Provides Data Security
Because of its nature, all of the patient data stored on the blockchain would be secure. The decentralized architecture of the blockchain means that hackers cannot find a single weak point to penetrate and find the information they want.
Instead, patient data remains private. If a breach does occur, the transparency of the blockchain would make it immediately apparent.
Blockchain Tech Can Let Patients Own and Sell Their Data
An interesting application of the blockchain in healthcare is the ability of patients to sell their information or choose not to. If all the health information about each patient was stored on a secure blockchain, users would be in complete control of their data.
A patient could, for example, block their knee specialist from viewing information on their sexual health history. This way, patients can maintain their privacy, providing healthcare professionals with just the information they need.
At the same time, patients could choose to sell their health-related information to companies. Perhaps a drug research company would want it, or maybe they would sell it to a health research study. Patients could share and sell as much or as little as they want.
Some experts say that the stored information could be incredibly vast and include every aspect of your health and even that of your family members for your medical history. Some even say it could include data like your genome and that of your parents or your fitness data. Only the patient would be able to decide who sees this information.
The Blockchain Could Compile Data for Research
Those who buy the information would be able to see health trends and potential connections between factors on a scale not currently possible. Instead of having to track a group of people in a study for decades in hopes of finding a connection, researchers could create a working hypothesis.
With support from their blockchain-collected data, it would be easier to get funding for a long-term longitudinal study to confirm the link.
This research can be used for developing recommendations for treating various conditions with lifestyle factors, drug development or a range of other advances. The blockchain could even be used by various researchers to share their information with each other.
If two studies look at similar things, they could securely share and pool their data, taking advantage of a larger sample size. Of course, this would also require medical researchers to be willing to share information.
The Blockchain Could Compile Data for Hospital Analysis
Research is not the only application for data that the blockchain stores and compiles. Hospitals and doctor’s offices will find all their records in a single place, without any risk of the data being edited.
The blockchain and its cryptographic signatures ensure that as soon as data is tampered with, it becomes clear. This way, higher-ups cannot adjust their hospital’s statistics to make them seem more favorable.
Instead, everyone gets a clear idea of how a hospital performs, the success rate and typical length of stay for particular problems, the average time spent in the waiting room and more. The blockchain can provide this data and an application of some sort can analyze it, perhaps an app yet to be created but based on the blockchain. Hospitals can use this data to make changes when necessary or continue what they do well.
The Blockchain Facilitates Clinical Trial Recruitment
Going back to research applications of the blockchain in healthcare, this technology can facilitate recruitment for clinical trials. Recruitment is traditionally time-consuming and costly.
However, the blockchain could make it incredibly simple for researchers to find patients who match their requirements for recruitment. The researchers would then be able to verify the data provided is accurate thanks to the blockchain and could even incentivize participation via cryptocurrencies.
The Blockchain Could Secure the Medicine Supply Chain
While data covers many of the blockchain applications for the healthcare industry, a lot of innovations are related to the supply chain for drugs and medications. At the moment, there is always a risk for counterfeit drugs or those that are mishandled during transportation, leading to them going bad.
For example, insulin must remain refrigerated. So, blockchain technology could track its location or even record temperatures if a thermometer becomes integrated, ensuring that patients’ medication is effective.
In terms of preventing counterfeits, there are already numerous blockchain platforms appearing for non-medical resources that track their progress and prevent counterfeiting. Some estimates say that the pharmaceutical companies lose about $200 billion each year from counterfeit drugs. However, blockchain solutions could spot counterfeits, preventing this issue from arising.
The Blockchain Could Assist with Billing and Insurance
In 2016 alone, Medicare fraud cost more than $30 million in the United States. Blockchain-based systems can minimize this. Claims can be validated automatically by looking at blockchain data to confirm an appointment took place and what charges were incurred.
They could also reduce administrative costs related to billing thanks to automated activities and improved processing, which would prevent the need for an intermediary. Blockchain technology could also be useful when it comes to ensuring the security of insurance information.
Blockchain as a Healthcare Administrator
If you take a closer look at all the previously mentioned applications of the blockchain for healthcare, there is a common theme: Most are currently handled by the administration on some level.
Administrators have to develop a system for organizing patient records, sharing the information when necessary, and ensuring privacy. They are the ones who decide whether to work with a research study and who handles billing.
Simply put, the blockchain could make the role of healthcare administrators significantly easier. Best of all, there would be no concerns about the confidentiality of records if someone in the administration has unscrupulous motives, as the blockchain cannot be bribed.
Example: MediLedger Project
By the end of 2017, there were already numerous healthcare-related blockchain projects underway, some of which were fully executed. MediLedger is one of these projects that kicked off during the year, led by Chronicled and the LinkLab.
The two teams, wholesalers and pharmaceutical manufacturers, created and then implemented a process that relied on the blockchain to make it possible to track and trace prescription medicine.
They created MediLedger to support the U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act’s requirements. It also includes steps for creating an interoperable and electronic system that identifies and then traces specific prescription drugs.
In this way, it met the requirements of the act as well as the industry’s operational needs. The blockchain solution is completely private without any risk of leaking business intelligence while still allowing drug verification.
Example: Robomed Network
Another blockchain-based technology that could change the healthcare world is the Robomed Network. This decentralized medical network has the goal of providing the most effective medical care possible. It uses smart contracts to connect patients with healthcare service providers.
This is innovative in that it not only uses blockchain technology but also focuses on the patient. In fact, at launch, the Robomed Network was the first system of its type, in that the patients pay for the network’s efforts instead of the medical process.
Robomed first launched in Dubai and Russia. By the end of 2017, it had almost 9,000 patients along with 30,500 services, which were valued at almost $2 million.
Example: SimplyVital Health
SimplyVital Health launched in February 2017 and provides an audit trail. Its product is ConnectingCare, which puts various clinical organizations on the same platform, letting them view data on patients they share.
AI-powered clinical and financial algorithms deliver strategic opportunities that are actionable and that all users can take advantage of. The various providers on the platform work together to reduce the cost of care, and reimbursement is based on their proof that these groups actually worked together. In that way, the audit trail benefits both users and those who want to track the credibility.
Private providers can use the platform to track and achieve compliance with MACRA Care Coordination, coordinate care with the entire care team for their patients and get analytic insights into clinical opportunities and patient needs.
Health systems and hospitals can use it to track patients throughout their entire journey, create tailored Home Health and SNF protocols as well as monitor outcomes and work with PAC providers and PCPs for coordination and planning.
From storing and securing patient data to ensuring medications are not counterfeit, blockchain technology has numerous applications in the healthcare industry. Many platforms have already been developed, and before the year is out, even more are likely to arrive.
Thanks to the blockchain, healthcare can experience improved efficiency and enhanced patient care, and hopefully even improved outcomes.