What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the term “blockchain”? A revolutionary technology? That’s right, blockchain is a new, innovative, and innovative technology that is gradually making inroads into different industries. Today, we will look at blockchain in healthcare and its potential in this field. 

How can blockchain in healthcare work? What are the benefits of using blockchain technology in the health sector? While blockchain in healthcare is in its infancy, there are endless opportunities here. Experts are confident that blockchain will transform the healthcare sector in the future, and for good reasons. 

Blockchain has tremendous potential to ensure that patients are at the center of healthcare. Besides, with enhanced security, interoperability of health data, and privacy, blockchain has laid down the foundations for a new era of healthcare. 

So far, blockchain has shown that it has all the ingredients to create a new model for health information exchanges (HIE) by streamlining electronic medical records. While blockchain in healthcare will not provide solutions for all the challenges the industry currently faces, it paves the way for proof-of-concept testing and experimentation. 

Without further ado, let’s look at what this path-breaking fintech innovation has in store for us. 

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What is blockchain?

A man pointing a finger at the Blockchain technology symbol

Before we look at the benefits of blockchain technology in healthcare, let’s understand what it is exactly. 

A blockchain is an innovative decentralized system that generates and saves a chain of transactions, each linked to one block. Cryptographic keys that are called “hashes” hold together every block on the “blockchain”.

The blockchain maintains a digital ledger of all the connected blocks of data. Each ledger represents how data is altered, distributed, and accessed on the peer-to-peer network. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has highlighted a few benefits of blockchain technology. Some of the most notable benefits include the technology’s tamper-resistant nature, the decentralized nature of digital ledgers, and the inability to change published transactions. Many people even call it digital ledger technology. 

Benefits of blockchain technology

By now, we have a fair understanding of blockchain technology. But what are the benefits of using blockchain technology in healthcare? What are the barriers in the current scenario? Read along to find out. 

1. Patient data is safe and sound

Securing patient data is very crucial in the healthcare sector. Any discrepancy in patient records can cause a series of problems while diagnosing and treating patients.

 The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights reported that there were around 4,419 healthcare record data breaches of over 500 records between 2009 and 2021 [1]. To put that in perspective, that is somewhere around 94% of the population of the U.S. in 2019. The nature of these breaches includes theft, exposure to vulnerable patient information, loss, and impermissible disclosure of 314, 063, 186 patient records. 

This is where blockchain can step in and solve this problem. Since blockchain is tamper-proof and incorruptible, storing patient data is much safer. 

2. Transparent supply chain management 

A van transporting goods and commodities

We all know that hospitals do not make or manufacture drugs. Pharma companies make medicines in labs across the world. Once the drugs are manufactured, they are distributed across various supply channels to fulfill the demand coming from different places. Thus, it is very critical to establish an end-to-end tamper-proof medical supply chain. 

Blockchain offers significant promise to address the existing challenges in the supply chain. By now we have a clear idea that the blockchain offers transparency and is tamper-proof. 

Let’s see what blockchain technology can do. The pharma company will create a distributed ledger for the drug in which the point of origin to point of delivery is entered. Thus, blockchain boosts transparency within the supply chain of medical drugs. 

3. Blockchain for healthcare research

Research in laboratory

Electronic health records have certainly played a key role in taking healthcare research to the next level. Today, thanks to electronic health records, the medical data of every patient can be easily updated and shared within an organization or a group of organizations. 

However, there is plenty of scope for improvement in this area. This may be furthered if the data were arranged so that the information on the blockchain’s top layer was limited to that which was not PHI, or personally identifiable information (PII).

Researchers and other organizations could access this vast range of data, which includes cohorts of hundreds of thousands of patients. The availability of such large volumes of data would drastically improve clinical research, the reporting and detection of safety events and adverse events, and public health reporting.

4. A collaborative and personalized approach to patient care

Following the trail of the previous point, we have identified another benefit of blockchain technology in healthcare. Personally identifiable information (PII), if stored in the blockchain, enables patients to unlock and share health information with other organizations via a shareable private key. 

This approach could promote collaboration among multiple users and interoperability of health information technology (HIT). 

Blockchain allows you to create a single system for storing frequently updated health records that can be easily and safely accessed by authorized users. Limiting communication between different healthcare professionals prevents countless errors, enables faster diagnosis and treatment, and allows professionals to provide personalized healthcare to every patient.

5. Organizing health insurance claims

Sorting, managing, and processing health insurance claims remain problematic for all stakeholders even today. What can we do to make this better? Yes, you guessed it, blockchain. 

Blockchain has all the answers to streamlining claim processing as it can seamlessly present medical events accurately, leaving no room for data manipulation in the future. 

6. Blockchain, the potential guardian of genomics

Genomic data theft has become a serious issue as more and more businesses offer DNA sequencing to patients. Blockchain in healthcare has emerged as an excellent solution to address this problem. 

Not only can blockchain prevent genomic data theft, but it also opens up new avenues for scientists. How? It offers them an online marketplace where they can buy genomic information for research. Thus, blockchain eliminates the need for expensive middlemen and also safeguards precious genomic data. 

7. Identifying disease patterns and tracking diseases

The advanced features of blockchain technology have made real-time disease reporting a reality. Besides, blockchain in healthcare can also identify disease patterns and determine transmission parameters and the origin of the disease. 

Problems with blockchain technology in healthcare

We have broadly understood the key benefits of blockchain in healthcare. It is also important to understand the different problems with blockchain applications in healthcare. 

Some notable concerns include:

  • Adding a layer of network infrastructure security across different levels
  • Thorough identity verification and authentication of all participants
  • Consistent patterns of authorization to access electronic health information

DLT may be used across multiple areas of healthcare. However, it is critical to understand that not every healthcare activity is linked to transactions. However, since the data in public blockchains are readily available, they cannot be used to store sensitive data such as identifiable health data. This transparency requires providers to take privacy concerns into account (PHI) to safeguard protected health information. 

Although providing built-in security against a few vulnerabilities, blockchain technology is prone to others. Because of social engineering, zero-day attacks, and the nature of the blockchain code, blockchain is not hundred percent foolproof. Therefore, it is crucial to pay close attention to information security, especially when it is employed in healthcare.

Because of the immutability of its data, blockchain technology shouldn’t be implemented haphazardly in the healthcare industry. Large files or others that change often may be blocked, and we should store all personally identifiable information off the chain. 

The future of blockchain in healthcare

Introducing blockchain technology will transform different aspects of the healthcare sector. Besides, blockchain technology in healthcare will sow the seeds for transparent, secure, and accessible healthcare. 

Right from improving patient care, and streamlining the supply chain, to processing medical insurance claims, we expect blockchain technology to enjoy a good run in the healthcare field. In addition, with increased efforts to infuse this cutting-edge technology into healthcare, the applications of blockchain in healthcare will only grow from here. 

That said, it will not be smooth sailing because of several barriers during the implementation phase. Although a plethora of creative and mind-boggling blockchain solutions have come up, it could take some time to see them go mainstream. 

Regardless, blockchain in healthcare is here to stay, and this is just the beginning. As we gear ourselves for a data-driven future, blockchain will play a key role in the healthcare space. 

What are your views about blockchain in healthcare? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. 

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Feature Image Source: Photo by GuerrillaBuzz Crypto PR on Unsplash

Image 1 Source: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Image 2 Source: Photo by Norbert Kundrak on Unsplash

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[1] (2021) “Healthcare Data Breach Statistics” HIPAA Journal [online] Available from: https://www.hipaajournal.com/healthcare-data-breach-statistics/ [accessed September 2022]