The latter half of the 20th century and the initial years of 21st centuries have seen some massive inventions and discoveries that changed our world forever. Be it the computer, the internet, and now the new sensation Blockchain.
Don’t be surprised If I put Blockchain with internet as many experts firmly believe blockchain to be most significant invention since the internet. Some also call it the new or “next internet”.
Blockchain has emerged as a new buzzword in the tech world. The rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have certainly helped blockchain to get the spotlight.
However, the experts believe that Blockchain is not a fad as it’s not all about the cryptocurrencies, it promises to be a lot more than that.
What is blockchain?
Wiki defines blockchain as a decentralized, distributed and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that any involved record cannot be altered retroactively, without the alteration of all subsequent blocks.
Blockchain derives its name because the ‘blocks’ or transactions (records) are verified and connected to the previous ‘block’ thus to form a long chain.
In easy terms you can imagine blockchain as a huge Google doc file with one major difference that in this anyone can view and add but can’t change the information.
Why is it such a big deal?
Blockchain is a revolutionary invention as it solves many digital challenges like:
Transparency: Blockchain offers a great deal of transparency as every transaction made is recorded and verified publicly.
Immutability: All the data written in the blockchain cannot be altered by anyone once it’s entered.
This also includes the system administrator and the third parties. This helps people to prove that their data is genuine and unaltered.
Security: In Blockchain the data is stored across all the systems instead of a centralized database which enhances its security and makes it hack proof.
Reduced transaction costs: Blockchain completely eliminates third-parties and even banks by allowing peer-to-peer transactions thus reducing the transaction costs.
Innovation: Blockchain provides a great platform for new & innovative business models to grow and compete with conventional businesses.
Scope of blockchain technology in healthcare
The scope of blockchain technology in healthcare is immense. This is supported by a report which says that the global blockchain development technology in healthcare.
Which was valued at approximately $34.47 million will see a steep rise in 2024 with revenue close to $1415.59 million. Moreover, the CAGR growth will be around 70.45% between 2018-2024.
The stats look promising, but what are the key factors that makes blockchain so crucial for healthcare. Let’s have a look at those factors one by one.
As discussed earlier, the Blockchain has a decentralized system which makes it hackproof and prevents every single copy of data from getting compromised.
All the commodity hardware in the hospital can be made to run on these decentralized systems. This is will eliminate all the man-made and even natural disasters in-turn providing foolproof security.
Moreover, the power saved by these systems can be used by the researchers to make convoluted calculations to find cures, drugs, and treatments of various diseases and disorders.
Single data source
We studied earlier that in blockchain all the transactions are stored and added to the chain only after getting confirmed by majority of participants.
Moreover, the data recorded can’t be changed which proves 100% of authenticity and security.
The researchers can use this property to study a massive amount of undisclosed information of specific group of people.
This assists longitudinal studies which are used for the development of precision medicine for effective treatment.
24*7 monitoring & access of data
Blockchain for healthcare can be used for storing and updating useful patient data like blood pressure and sugar level in real-time with the help of IoT and wearables.
This assists the doctors to monitor patients 24*7 which are prone to high risk and to inform & alert their caretakers & relatives in case of an emergency.
Blockchain technology completely takes all the third party and mediator systems out of equation that are usually involved in fetching and transferring data.
The absence of this system results in achieving great cost-effectiveness in the healthcare system.
Consistent rules through smart contract
Smart contract is nothing but a computer protocol that digitally verifies, facilitates, and enforces the negotiation.
In healthcare it helps in the development of a consistent rule based process for various organizations to access patient’s data.
Blockchain healthcare apps are usually based on this principle. Recently, Peerbits developed a doctor-patient mobile application by integrating the blockchain technology. You can view the working principle of that app in the below video.
Application of blockchain technology in healthcare
We already saw the scope of the Blockchain in healthcare, now let’s see what can be its possible applications.
Supply chain management
The current healthcare supply chain is both insecure and drawn-out. First, the drugs are manufactured at the manufacturing centers. They are then transferred to the wholesale distributors.
The wholesale distributors then transfer it to the retail companies which finally sell it to the customers.
To add to the woes there’s a major threat to the authenticity of the drugs as substandard and counterfeit drugs can enter the cycle with ease.
The immutability of Blockchain healthcare can solve several issues at one go.
Check drug ingredients: Blockchain assists the manufacturers to keep a track of all the ingredients used in a drug. It ensures that all the ingredients used are as per the medical standards.
Blockchain offers traceability of counterfeit drugs: With the usage of blockchain technology the healthcare and pharma organizations can get rid of counterfeit drugs. It allows the traceability of all such drugs and helps to find the source of counterfeiting.
Integrity of medical records
Blockchain can be used to ensure the integrity of all the medical records. It’s because whenever a medical record is produced, it can be stored in the blockchain which will provide its absolute proof as the record in blockchain can’t be changed.
This is will be a huge plus point as the integrity of a medical record is critical for both medical as well as legal point of view.
Blockchain can also prove to be handy for medical research purposes. The researchers via validated access to the patient’s data can effectively study the impact of any specific treatment over a massive fraction of the patient population.
Such type of research provides substantial outcomes that result in improvement in the treatment methodology for those section of patient population.
Single patient identification
In healthcare the mismatch and duplication of patient’s record is not that rare. Moreover, with different schema of different EHRs makes the job tougher as it brings new ways to manipulate the simplest of data.
However, with blockchain the entire data is hashed to a ledger. You will encounter with multiple addresses and keys when looking for the addresses; although, all of them will give out a single patient identification.
Settlement of claims
Time consumed for claim settlements is one of the things that pains the healthcare industry. Smart contracts in blockchain defines the terms and conditions of the contract between the payer and the provider.
It comes into effect when a claim is submitted. It is followed by the processing of the claim in real-time and at last the payment is transmitted to the provider.
Change in business model
Blockchain has the potential to create new business models when integrated with the operations of healthcare.
Let’s see some of the example of how blockchain changes the stake holder’s business model with Blockchain healthcare.
Pharma companies: With Blockchain platform in place it will be possible for pharma companies to collect data in real-time that will allow them to offer a vast array of medical products and treatments which are specifically customized for the patients.
Pharmacies: Blockchain will make the pharmacies’ job easy as they will have all the data available top them.
From these data they can give effectively guide the patients as to how they must take the drug.
Healthcare professionals: All the healthcare professionals whether the doctor or nurses can easily access the patient’s data related to their condition.
Moreover, with the real-time data collected via wearables it can update the professionals about the patient’s current stage along with alerting them in case of any emergency.
What are the challenges for blockchain technology in healthcare
Blockchain in healthcare seems to have a cluster of benefits and applications. However, to implement a new technology like blockchain in healthcare and that too on a large scale is not going to be easy.
Let’s see what could be the possible challenges that Blockchain in healthcare could face.
Blockchain is still a fairly new technology and apart from cryptocurrencies we haven’t seen any other successful application of it.
As far as the healthcare is concerned we don’t see many successful blockchain healthcare startups or initiatives yet which creates a sense of uncertainty and doubt.
There’s no process established yet that lets you know who owns the healthcare data and who grants the permission for sharing.
There’s no clear idea as to what is the total cost for establishment and maintenance of blockchain technology in healthcare.
This makes it difficult for any firm to consider this technology without knowing its actual cost.
Rules & regulations
As of now there are no established rules that guide the usage of blockchain technology in the healthcare industry.
Moreover, with privacy regulations such as HIPAA act in place, it’s uncertain as to how the new rules & regulations regarding healthcare blockchain will be incorporated.
If we use the blockchain technology in the healthcare industry then it will consist of all the medical records, documents, images, and lab reports in it.
Moreover, conceptually speaking each member will have their own copy. The volume of all these files can very well exceed the storage capacity of the existing blockchain technology which may cause problems.
Blockchain is relatively a new technology which is in its nascent stage. It’s huge success in the form of Bitcoin has certainly raised the bar of expectations.
In coming years we may see Blockchain disrupting the healthcare industry and with that there will be boost in the healthcare app development using the blockchain technology.
However, it’s also true that implementation of blockchain in the healthcare might not be a cakewalk as it might face some serious challenges as discussed in the article.
At last one thing is for sure that Blockchain will make healthcare sector swift and secure than ever.