As our world slowly distances from the pandemic and we regain a sense of "normality", implementing blockchain can improve our healthcare system, making it faster, secure, cheaper, and more trustworthy. That way we will be better prepared in the future if another pandemic occurs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many people more concerned about the healthcare system than ever before, and it will probably be no surprise if it remains the main concern for the next 3-5 years. Now the problems and limitations of the healthcare system are being exposed, with expensive treatments and lack of masks, respirators, and other personal protection equipment. As well as this, with the increasing panic causing thousands of online claims of miracle cures, and cases of companies violating users’ privacy, people are unsure of what and who to trust.
Introducing blockchain to healthcare is a great way to address the problem of trust and numerous other industry-related issues. By combining the human emotion of trust with computer algorithms, it can be possible to help society.
Read on to find out how blockchain is used in healthcare, what top-of-the-agenda blockchain use cases and applications in the healthcare industry exist, and what solutions medical blockchain startups and companies have to offer.
What is blockchain in healthcare and how does it work?
Blockchain is an emerging technology that can be applied in different areas. Blockchain systems have shared programs, also known as shared ledgers, which execute on different computing nodes, representing different users in the system.
The term “distributed ledger technology” is also used in this context to represent the ledger copies that are shared across those users. As the transaction data is recorded on the ledger, a unique digital signature is created, called a hash. The hash of the transaction data is propagated from one transaction record to the next, or from one block of transactions to the next block of transactions, creating a chain of hashes on the ledger. Hence, we use the term “blockchain” when referring to such technology.
Blockchain can be divided into private and public. For healthcare blockchain systems permissioned private technology would be desirable, where a group of healthcare entities such as hospitals, medical suppliers, pharmacies, regulatory agencies, and healthcare-related institutions can all participate provided that they have permissioned access.
What are the issues with the present-day healthcare system?
Quite a number of healthcare facilities are still using outdated systems to keep patient records. As a result, the process of making a correct diagnosis is time-consuming and complicated. Furthermore, carelessly-kept patient data can lead to misdiagnosing and/or prescribing the wrong medication, the consequences of which could be regrettable.
However, this is not the only issue. Another major and very serious problem is drug counterfeiting that could lead to losses of up to $200bn. The supply chain badly needs better and more reliable monitoring and tracking features.
Health information exchange can be a tedious process, too. It results in high costs and a lack of transparency and trust. If patients have an opportunity to take control of their records, risks of identity hacking as well as financial crimes can be significantly reduced.
These issues continue to grow rapidly, and without a major technology disruption, they’re insurmountable.
Blockchain, in its turn, can bring immense benefits to the healthcare industry by making it more transparent, efficient, and reliable.
How can blockchain improve the healthcare industry?
Medical blockchain can provide the industry with an enormous range of opportunities. The technology is able to perform numerous functions, significantly easing the workload of healthcare providers.
But how exactly is blockchain changing the healthcare industry and what is it already capable of? Let’s take a look!
Blockchain can not only store health records but also allows patients to make the decision themselves as to who can access their data. Any breach of the patient’s personal information can be viewed and traced. Besides, any unauthorized access to sensitive data will be immediately revoked.
Prevention of medical errors
According to a study conducted by patient safety experts at Johns Hopkins, more than 250,000 people in the USA die annually due to medical errors. Luckily blockchain can prevent this from happening.
Firstly, healthcare providers will be able to view the patient’s history from their very first hospital visit, and based on the previous data they’ll make a correct diagnosis. Secondly, doctors can only add data and are unable to delete it. Once the information has been entered into the blockchain, it’ll remain there forever.
Better medicine research
Thanks to blockchain, researchers all over the world are able to gain access to an enormous database of information. The only thing they will have to do is to ask patients for permission to use their data for carrying out research. The more data scientists receive, analyze, and process, the better patient treatment, care, and satisfaction will become.
Future pandemic prevention
False information and fake news about COVID-19 are spreading at enormous speed, which can lead to unfavorable consequences. The Center for Disease Control has recently teamed up with the WHO and IBM to launch a new blockchain-based project for tracking, storing, and disbursing reliable sensitive data to healthcare organizations so as to effectively manage pandemics.
Healthcare cost reduction
Bisresearch has published a report stating that the implementation of blockchain in healthcare is bound to save up to $100bn annually by 2025. By doing without costly third-party services and eliminating counterfeit pharmaceuticals, the healthcare industry will be able to move towards greater transparency and accountability, as well as saving decent sums of money for patients and healthcare organizations.
What are the blockchain applications in healthcare?
Blockchain has great scope for becoming relevant in emerging healthcare systems and use cases. Some early solutions have already demonstrated the potential to cut healthcare costs, bolster numerous business processes, and enhance access to information amongst multiple stakeholders working toward a common goal.
Shared data systems for medical efficiency
As blockchain is completely trustworthy, it seems reasonable to use it for the transfer of patient and medical data. By introducing blockchain medical record sharing across hospitals, doctors will be able to see the patient’s past medical history and avoid repeating medical tests (e.g. they can utilize the results from a recent blood test).
In addition, thanks to the available trusted information on the blockchain platform, doctors will need much less time to make a diagnosis. It also helps a doctor pinpoint the problem more easily and quickly, and leads to more efficient treatment.
Because less time is needed for diagnosis, a doctor can conduct more health check-ups and treat more people daily, which can help save lives and increase the standard of living, especially among people relying on publicly-funded hospitals.
Another substantial benefit worth mentioning is that if unnecessary medical tests can be avoided due to the transparency provided by a blockchain ledger, then medical equipment will not be wasted on unnecessary repeated tests. This can help reduce hospital and government expenditure as well.
Smart contracts for data control and validation
Smart contracts are used to validate patient consent for data sharing in case of emergencies or when needed – for example, when visiting a doctor at a hospital. As well as this, self-executing smart contracts ensure that only a person who needs to see the patient’s data (e.g. a doctor) will be able to access it. Any attempt to access the patient data record by users who have access to the system is also recorded on the blockchain. Another advantage that smart contracts offer is faster health insurance claims processing. When the claim is submitted, the blockchain initiates the payment without the intervention of any intermediaries.
Mapping for distribution of antibodies
One of the crucial problems during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the supply of antibodies. Even though they are not a permanent solution to the virus, they do help in reducing the amount of virus prevalent in the body. Those who have recovered from the virus contain these antibodies and can donate their blood to patients who are in critical condition.
To ensure the correct supply, all cases of COVID-19 should be recorded on the blockchain. The data should comprise basic demographics of each patient such as age, blood type, and other diseases like AIDS, along with the geolocation of these patients. In other words, all the relevant information about available donors and critical care patients should be safely stored in one place. This will lead to an efficient supply chain and distribution of antibodies, and ensure that patients will receive compatible and safe antibodies.
Smart contracts could be applied to check the consent of donors and connect them with critical patients. The events related to antibody sharing can be recorded on a blockchain system so that the receiving patient can express gratitude to a donor after the patient recovers (on condition that the donor’s personal information is provided).
User privacy and zero-knowledge proofs
Blockchain technology also supports an interesting feature called zero-knowledge proofs. This means that a blockchain system only exposes the most minimal information required. This can be used, for example, to minimally verify that the age of a person is greater than 21 years but without exposing their date of birth or other personal details on their driver’s license (name, address, gender, etc.).
In the afore-mentioned use case of connecting antibody donors with recipients, if a donor wished to donate antibodies but did not wish to be contacted in the future, then a zero-knowledge proof could be utilized to match up a donor with a recipient. The blockchain system can anonymize donor information and expose only the necessary data about them.
Zero-knowledge proofs can also be utilized to derive statistics on the progress of COVID-19 related infections and deaths in a given area, without exposing the identity of the individuals affected. This could include, for example, gathering demographic information to study how COVID-19 affects different communities.
Zero-knowledge proofs are also able to deal with another privacy issue. Governments around the world have become increasingly paranoid and started deploying mobile phone applications to track users and ensure that social distancing norms are being adhered to. Such apps can also provide warnings to users about their likelihood of having come into contact with a COVID-19 patient.
However, in this process, a lot of users are finding that their privacy is undermined. But such applications can employ zero-knowledge proofs to provide a warning about possible contact with a COVID-19 patient without exposing the details of the infected patient. Blockchain technology can be used to maintain adequate privacy while gathering information and providing important services to people.
Trusting the outcome of drug and vaccination trials
Recently, there has been a lot of concern about the validity of drug and vaccination trials for COVID-19.
A study on hydroxychloroquine was retracted due to issues with the validity of the tests that were performed. This is because there were concerns about client confidentiality agreements being violated if detailed information about the tests were exposed.
However, if blockchain technology is implemented, information about the tests can be recorded on a secure and tamper-proof blockchain ledger. Zero-knowledge proofs can be utilized to minimally expose information and maintain client confidentiality.
Smart contracts are responsible for processing the available information about the drug or vaccination trial. The result of the smart contract processing can then be independently used by different agencies that will validate the accuracy of the conclusions of the trial. Thus, blockchain can help provide verifiable records so that people can trust the outcome of such drug trials.
Emergency funding has been released by governments to help defray the costs of providing healthcare services for the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help of blockchain, it would be easy and convenient to track the flow of such available funds. The technology also ensures that the healthcare organizations that were meant to receive such funds do actually receive them.
As well as this, thanks to blockchain’s tracking capability, the government agency that provided the funds can find out if these funds have been received and if they have managed to help the institutions and people that needed the financial assistance.
In general, in many countries around the world, hospitals are funded by the government. One could check that the funds reach their intended destinations by tracking the delivery of funds on a blockchain platform. Thus, blockchain technology can establish trust between tax-paying citizens and the government, and guarantee complete transparency regarding whether such funds are reaching their intended recipients.
Healthcare supply chains
In the current era of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are worried about whether adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is reaching frontline healthcare professionals (nurses, doctors, and administrative staff) at all the relevant healthcare institutions.
Luckily, thanks to blockchain, one can learn how the PPE masks and gowns are made and distributed in the healthcare ecosystem. It’s also possible to monitor the availability of masks, drugs, and vaccines. For example, British hospitals have just started to use blockchain to track temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines.
Using tracking containers that can be marked with bar-codes or RFID tags, you can track if they have reached different regions around the world, including remote communities. One can also alert a community about the need for healthcare volunteers to help facilitate the availability of masks, drugs, or vaccines in the remotest parts of the world.
What’s more, in locations where there is a greater supply related to the demand, one can re-route masks, drugs, vaccines, or equipment to those areas that may be in greater need. For example, if a large number of ventilators were deployed in the state of New York at a given time, and if the number of new cases then reduced and the ventilators were no longer needed, they could be diverted to a more needy state in the country where the number of cases has started surging.
What are the challenges of blockchain in healthcare?
Even though blockchain in healthcare seems to be an obvious go-to tool, there still exist some challenges that the technology has to deal with. It goes without saying that the healthcare industry is bound to take advantage of blockchain, but the adoption of relatively new technology in such a conservative industry as healthcare is proving to be a challenge in itself.
Rules and regulations
Currently, there are no established rules that would help guide the use of blockchain in healthcare. Besides, with existing HIPAA privacy regulations, it’s not clear how any new rules and regulations related to blockchain in healthcare would be implemented.
Another challenge is the need for a cultural shift within the medical community. In any industry, changing people’s habits and behavior is very difficult. Despite widespread technological progress, a number of doctors still prefer to stick to paper-based documentation. In other words, to make them switch to electronic healthcare records (EHR) on the blockchain is a tall order. It is typical of doctors to leave a few questions in a form unanswered – but with blockchain, this won’t pass, as every single field has to be filled in.
Lack of unity among entities
It’s also worth noting that the healthcare system itself is very distributed. It consists of professionals from various fields, from healthcare physician providers to insurance payers. It’s quite obvious that all parties prefer to handle their records differently, and it could be problematic to make all these entities adopt blockchain. As a result, if one of them refuses to use the technology, the usefulness of the entire system is in doubt.
Even though blockchain technology has been around for some years already, there’s no exact information regarding the total cost of its implementation and maintenance in healthcare. Any firm may find it difficult to consider the application of blockchain without knowing its actual cost.
Once you implement blockchain in the healthcare industry, the distributed ledger technology (DLT) will hold all the medical records, documents, images, lab reports, and much more data. Plus, each member is supposed to have their own copy as well. Consequently, the volume capacity of the existing blockchain may well be exceeded and lead to problems with data storage.
However, all of these challenges can be overcome, and in no way do they diminish the tremendous potential of blockchain in healthcare. Besides, according to Research and Markets, the global blockchain market in healthcare is expected to reach $500 million by 2022.
An overview of blockchain healthcare companies and startups
By discovering more blockchain healthcare use cases, the industry can be completely revolutionized. As of today, a number of healthcare and blockchain companies have launched various blockchain-based platforms and systems that have the potential to enhance the healthcare sphere for doctors and patients.
More and more governments all over the world are starting to take a closer look at blockchain. Estonia, for example, puts a great deal of trust in the medical blockchain. Estonia’s government-backed blockchain initiative enables companies to work out their own blockchain solutions and establish a completely new ecosystem for healthcare innovation. Currently, the country’s healthcare billing is kept on a blockchain, almost 95% of medical data is ledger-based, and 99% of all prescription data is digital.
Now, let’s discover what solutions different blockchain healthcare companies and startups have to offer and how they can improve the healthcare industry.
BurstIQ offers a platform that helps healthcare providers securely deal with huge amounts of patient data. The company manages this with the help of blockchain technology that has the capability of significantly enhancing medical data sharing and keeping.
Being fully compliant with HIPAA rules, BurstIQ’s platform provides relevant information about patients’ health and their healthcare activity. Its greatest advantage, though, is its ability to eradicate abuse of opioids and other prescription drugs.
Given that medical record management has been one of the most prominent blockchain use cases, numerous systems and platforms that are able to handle this aspect of healthcare have been developed. MedRec is just one of the systems that provide a medical records management solution on the blockchain. The system is capable of storing all patient information in one place, making it extremely easy for doctors and patients to view and access it. MedRec is based on the Ethereum blockchain and is maintained through the Proof of Authority (PoA) mechanism.
Patientory creates a blockchain-based platform that secures health data for patients, healthcare providers, medical organizations, and institutions. Patients are enabled to easily track their doctor’s appointments, medical bills, insurance, pharmacy medications, and other important information.
Thanks to Medicalchain, it’s extremely easy to maintain the integrity of all health records. Healthcare organizations and doctors are able to request patient data that has a record of the origin and protects patient identity. Users can grant doctors access to their health records via mobile devices. What’s more, patients are offered special wristbands that can be scanned by doctors to get access to a person’s medical history if they’re unconscious. Medicalchain also keenly promotes telemedicine communication by enabling online video appointments and consultations with healthcare providers.
Iryo offers an open-sourced OpenEHR platform along with a zero-knowledge data repository, which guarantees that sensitive information will be secure and not prone to cyberattacks. The platform by Iryo keeps all health records unified and allows its users to safely share their medical data in any part of the world.
The healthcare blockchain startup called Chronicled designs special blockchain networks for chain-of-custody in drug supplies. The solution has helped pharmacies trace back the origins of supplies and identify suspicious activities (e.g. drug trafficking) as well as forged drugs.
Back in 2017, Chronicled launched its blockchain-based MediLedger project that helps trace the origin of the raw materials that drugs are made of, and quickly identify counterfeits.
With the help of blockchain, Nebula Genomics manages to do away with additional costs and middlemen in the process of genetic study. Naturally, both pharmaceutical and biotech companies spend billions of dollars annually to obtain genetic data from third parties. Nebula Genomics helps create a huge genetic database without the intervention of any middlemen. The greatest benefit is that the company provides complete security to users and enables them to safely sell their encrypted genetic information.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention & IBM
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently started considering blockchain as a means of disease monitoring. According to the US Government agency, due to blockchain’s data processing and peer-to-peer health reporting capabilities, the technology is able to detect and report disease outbreaks in real-time. To achieve this, CDC is using an IBM healthcare blockchain. CDC is keen to introduce a surveillance system for public agencies that will collect and store data about patients and prescriptions more effectively.
To decentralize medical data on the blockchain, Doc.ai resorts to artificial intelligence (AI). With the help of the company’s platform, users can share their medical and genomic data with scientists that need this kind of information for predictive modeling. Once the data has been uploaded and encrypted on blockchain and used in a trial, it is immediately deleted to ensure users’ complete security and privacy.
Hashed Health is a blockchain development company with a focus on the healthcare industry. The company aims to bring about greater transparency and easier accessibility to credentials in healthcare. Thanks to Professional Credentials Exchange, members of the chain are able to validate the credentials and even track the records of different healthcare providers. This significantly bolsters the hiring process and presents unalterable information about a doctor’s career history.
All in all, blockchain is undoubtedly changing the healthcare industry for the better and will inevitably continue to assist this ever-demanding industry in the future.
Blockchain technology is a panacea for the healthcare sphere. Among the biggest benefits that healthcare blockchain offers are better management, storage, and sharing of data, greater transparency and security of those data, and more efficient supply chain management.
Of course, there are many other blockchain healthcare use cases, and the most astonishing feature of the technology is that it can adapt to any situation, such as a pandemic like COVID-19, and start being used to benefit everyone.
The robustness and security of blockchain demonstrate its limitless potential to enhance healthcare performance, provide patients and doctors with better experiences, promote transparency, security, and trust, and even cut delivery costs.
Now is the most suitable time to embrace blockchain. Reach out to our PixelPlex blockchain development team and we’ll consider all your requirements to design a top blockchain solution for you.