Blockchain is the disruptive technology that has taken upon it to reform existing legacy systems across different sectors, healthcare being one. In a recent data report, it was stated that the global blockchain technology market in healthcare is estimated to go over 500 million USD by 2022, with a record growth rate of 61.4 percent.
Agreeably so, blockchain has great potential to transform and reform the healthcare ecosystem by enhancing interoperability, privacy, and security of health data. The distributed ledger technology aims at integrating with the existing system and makes electronic medical record-keeping and other processes secure and more efficient. There are other attributes that we will discuss in detail in this write-up.
The Current Status of the Healthcare System:
Excellent quality of healthcare services with proper management of medical data is a top priority of a good healthcare system. However, the present system is ridden with tedious protocols and loopholes in management and record-keeping that often leads to compromises with the patient’s wellbeing as a whole. The prime reason behind that remains to be a communication gap between the health care providers and patients.
Any vital medical data related to the patient is spread across various departments and medical bodies like doctors, hospitals, diagnostic labs, clinics, etc. This compromises the time efficiency and accessibility of relevant medical data during emergencies. Such confusion becomes an obstacle for healthcare organizations in providing the best caregiving to the patients. It also leaves scope for error in the medical records and even breach of confidential data.
There are many healthcare facilities that to this date use backdated systems to store patient data and information. Such laid back systems leads to delay in the proper diagnosis of the patient and it becomes difficult for the doctor to do his/her job most efficiently. Tedious and time-consuming processes also increase the cost of treatment. Since the patient has zero control over personal data, it makes them vulnerable to financial frauds, identity thefts, etc. as well. There is also the issue of drug counterfeiting that leads to a loss of about $200 million every year.
These are some of the very prominent problems with the healthcare industry that needs to be addressed at the earliest and that’s where blockchain comes into the picture.
The Concept of Blockchain:
Blockchain is a distributed ledger that is used to keep track of activities and transactions taking place throughout the network. The unique property of this technology is that once a piece of information is entered into the system, it cannot be altered without, making it immutable. If a change needs to be made then that requires the formation of a new block with encrypted protection. The new information becomes a new block and gets attached to the chain of previously created blocks.
The blockchain works on three important principles, the combination of which provides one with a secured and safe digital ecosystem. The key principles are as follows:
Private Key: It uses a secret key that is used with an algorithm for encryption and decryption of the code. The algorithm remains open but the key remains private. The blockchain requires the creation of a secure digital identity, but the transactions take place in the open network.
Distributed Ledgers: Also called a shared ledger it refers to a consensus of records shared on a network. The Distributed Ledger Technology can be updated without the interference of any central authority in real-time. The participants in the network keep the ledger updated and any changes get reflected in an instant.
Authentication: The blockchain authentication process is devoid of any loopholes. Any kind of information or transaction is authenticated before it gets added to the blockchain. The algorithms at work aid in the validation and verification process. The information gets encrypted and signed digitally and then stored.
This entire concept of blockchain adds to the unique value of the technology and has piqued the interest of the ones involved in the healthcare industry who are looking to bring positive change and reformation to the sector.
Blockchain Application in Healthcare Industry:
Here are a few blockchain application examples that have the potential to make the existing healthcare system more reliable and accessible.
Population Health Management: This refers to the management of medical records of people of a particular demographic. It will contain comprehensive data on all including current physical ailments and health risks. The major challenge in this record-keeping is the security, interoperability, and accessibility of the stored data. Blockchain offers a preferable solution to this problem, taking care of all the above including real-time access and update of information. This will make health studies involving a large group of people or maybe a particular region very easy. All the data can be monetized as tokens. This process will also improve the overall healthcare of particular demography.
Security to Healthcare Organizations: Any healthcare organization has a central database that takes care of all the needful. This makes it vulnerable to data security breaches and hacking incidents, putting the information related to the security of all patients at risk. Blockchain has a solution for that as well. Individuals having access to the blockchain-based ledger with encrypted blocks carrying information will preferably reduce the risk of data security breaches.
Crypto-Payments: This is one of the great benefits of a blockchain-based healthcare system. The patients will be able to pay through cryptos, which will put an end to monetary fraud cases. A crypto payment system eliminates all third-party intermediaries involved in the system, reducing the charges levied. It also makes the payment traceable and the entire process transparent.
Tracking of Drugs: Drug counterfeiting is a major issue that costs the healthcare industry millions of dollars every year. Besides financial losses, this also takes hundreds of lives due to the consumption of fake medicine. Blockchain technology can provide ultimate security and traceability to the manufactured drugs and put an end to counterfeiting. Every new information related to a drug transaction becomes secure and immutable inside the block. In this case, the pharmaceutical companies will have to use a public blockchain rather than a private one to ensure the authenticity of their manufactured drugs in the supply chain.
Management of Patient Data: The existing systems in different organizations about patient data exercise several regulations to ensure the data is secure. However, that is not enough. It is a complex system with multiple entities involved and all the records remain scattered. This causes issues in easy accessibility as well. A blockchain-based patient database will create a hash for every patient and store the information in blocks that would contain the patient ID. It will keep the control of such information solely in the hands of the patient, providing security to the identity.
There are lots of ways in which blockchain can improve and correct the flaws in the current healthcare structure. All over the world, some governments and organizations have already started to move towards that cause. For example, Uganda has a blockchain-based system to put an end to drug counterfeiting. Complete adoption will require everyone in this industry to come together in a co-operation to build a better, more technologically advanced and secure healthcare.