When it comes to industries using blockchain technology, you'd be forgiven for not thinking about the health care sector. After all, this is an area where entire processes, from booking appointments to measuring health outcomes, are still done in person.
Teleconsultations are still a relatively new concept. However, this is an area that is rapidly digitizing and the use of smart contracts, as well as the overall application of blockchain in healthcare, has not gone unnoticed. From improving patient care to enabling research with safe, unlimited access to validated data, the potential is staggering!
The key benefits of blockchain technology
Before we begin, it never hurts to refresh the basics. We always want to emphasize that blockchain is not crpytocurrencies. The latter is built on the former. In terms of the blockchain ledger itself, there are many immediate benefits:
- It's tamper-proof, as the peer-based network ensures any altered copy is checked against the wider network. The built-in immutable audit trail makes it a key choice when security is a priority.
- It's centralized without being controlled by one person. All required parties can add to a blockchain, and everyone involved can view it, but nobody owns exclusive editing access. In fact, thanks to the checksums and verification process, that's impossible. This makes it ideal for situations where there isn't a central authority that can be trusted.
- New transactions are automatically verified by other nodes on the network. As such, it's highly secure. This is because all inputs are checked across the network at the moment they attempt to be entered into the ledger.
- It's a backend based technology. We can build solutions where any application or connected device can receive and send information, but the blockchain ledger is nonetheless operating behind the scenes.
- This also means it works well with existing systems and solutions, too!
Of course, this is just a brief overview of the benefits that blockchain in healthcare can provide. What's more important is how or what you build on top of such technology with. When it comes to applying blockchain technology to the health care sector, we see a great deal of potential!
Let's start with the most obvious but potentially most beneficially use of blockchain in healthcare; personal records. In most parts of the world, a typical patient can go not only from department to department, but also from medical provider to another. Their medical records and health data, therefore, go through numerous hands.
Due to security concerns, this information is often passed on manually or through the backoffices. But what if there was a way to easily and securely do this? Better yet, what if there was a way to store protected health information from a central location?
The medical industry has been talking about electronic medical records for more than a decade now, but distributed ledger technology can solve the entire problem. It's protected, with any attempt to alter it detected, so every doctor and practitioner knows they're looking at full, complete health records of any patients that pass under their care. The patient, likewise, doesn't need to worry about data security or information getting lost.
Finances with blockchain technology
We all know that blockchain networks are ideal for finances (and not just for cryptocurrency) but what makes then useful for healthcare?
All healthcare professionals need reliable, secure data about all the treatment and hospital costs that a patient might go through. Hospitals need to compile accurate treatments and prescriptions for the patient, while insurance providers need something similar in order to better help the patient financially. Even now, much of this medical information is shared through emails and other manual systems.
Alongside typical treatments, the health care system also needs to consider prescriptions. A patient may be prescribed certain drugs, but they need to then buy and refill this at whichever licensed pharmacy they chose. This leads to concern on two sides. On one hand, patients want to keep their information secure, but want an easy and effective way to buy their medicaments.
On the other, pharmacies want to validate prescriptions and ensure that patients aren't accessing more than necessary or otherwise trying to abuse the system. Yet both sides, of course, also want an easy way to make payments.
The answer here is obvious, at least to us. Health care providers can create dedicated applications that not only help in paying for prescriptions from a connected device, but much more. They can validate prescriptions, provide a complete record of every time its refilled and connect information from all parties involved.
Advanced Diagnosis based on healthcare data
Blockchain technology is a form of data storage. At it's core, this is the essential truth. However, it's unique approach to information makes it ideal for many more advanced tools to be built on top of it. AI and Machine Learning have long been discussed in health care, but the concerns often came back to data. When it comes to artificial intelligence in the healthcare system, we can look at both the individual and public levels. In both areas, we see great hope for blockchain in healthcare.
AI for patients
For individuals, AI can help provide patient care at the earliest step; diagnosis. Similar to some of the prior solutions, blockchain technolgoy can provide a central, yet anonymized base for patient information.
In the same way doctors can use this patient data to form reliable medical histories, so too can advanced artificial intelligence. The latter can use this same information to do what it does best; quickly and effectively determine results based on the information it's been given.
However, it's important to note that only doctors can make official diagnosis and predictions. In these cases, AI is used to better inform doctors and eliminate the manual work of compiling medical records.
AI for research
Thinking a little larger, we can also the use of blockchain based systems in medical research. For example, let's consider the nature of disease control. In such instances, governments and medical instutions alike want to measure the outbreak. This requires a central authority or data source to both collect and share data.
Naturally, a blockchain network can manage this. Each entry in the blockchain ecosystem carries all the data needed; location, number of patients, specific disease etc. When the information is sent to the chain, this also marks the exact time, too. This is another vital factor for researchers.
Protection from health data breaches
When it comes to digital technology, the leaking of personally identifiable information is one of the biggest concerns. Medical institutions specifically, have traditionally been some of the most fearful. It's also, therfore, one of the biggest reasons why health information technology hasn't moved forward as fast as other industries. There is big fear inregards to social engineering and zero day attacks in health care.
Today's inefficient practices are still used because they priotize patient privacy. You often need to be in the building to access records. But you see where we're going here; a blockchain system is proven to be secure and anonymous. While data is stored on a peer to peer network, there are three factors to consider here.
The first is that such institutions are free to choose the network participants. This makes applying blockchain technology no different than any other system. Through applied and reinforced roles, nobody is getting unlimited access to private information!
Secondly, security is further protected through encryptions and private key solutions. While every business in the system will have its own transaction records, what goes on the public ledge isn't publically readable. This keeps patient data completely safe.
Finally, hackers can not change or delete digital assets in a blockchain. Unlike existing systems, a public ledger is based on a peer to peer network. This immutable audit trail means that any attemps will be quickly flagged, which greatly helps protect data and ensure patient's digital health records aren't corrupted.
Helping the pharmaceutical supply chain
The pharmacy industry is huge. A typical pharmcy or hospital has numerous providers, from different manufacturers to logistical partners. There's also the added nature of security, which we already touched upon. Legislation in both the US and in Europe require pharmecutical trading partners to be registered. It is a very controlled area.
Blockchain solutions can help with all of this. They can, naturally, ensure payments are validated. This is especially useful in situations with multiple parties. The decentralized nature of blockchain means those buying, selling and delivering all get their payments validated - and no one party has the ability to lie or manipulate the public ledger.
Blockchain in Healthcare Summary
So there you have it - just a few of the ways blockchain technology can innovate the entire health care system. There are many areas where blockchain-based solutions can help, but it's really just the beggining. We're looking forward to helping the sector innovate with smart contracts, healthcare data and the wider world of blockchain technology!