Blockchain is one of those buzz words you can hardly miss in the media these days. It was propelled to the public imagination with the rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but the technology can have many other use cases beyond moving money from one side of the planet to the other.
In fact, it is now in minds of many tech giants and even governments which can clearly see blockchain's power to transform how businesses operate by decentralizing business models, creating more efficient processes, and providing a more secure and reliable way to exchange data.
The healthcare industry is one of the sectors where blockchain can really prove its worth. For one thing, it can reduce the liability and accuracy concerns related to the exchange of medical data, while providing cryptographic security to protect patient identity "out of the box." Eventually, every patient will have its own "data wallet" to store and manage his/her medical records, and provide third parties with access to that data when needed.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves, here are 11 sectors in healthcare that could be improved with blockchain:
1. Supply Chain Management
Blockchain and supply chain are seen by many as a match made in heaven. Major tech companies — such as IBM, SAP, Microsoft and Accenture — are already working on decentralized versions of their supply chain solutions, or are creating new ones from the ground up. Also, some of them are developing universal blockchain solutions that would be able to power a different kind of applications, supply chain management included.
In the healthcare space, supply chain management (SCM) solutions are employed by manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and other healthcare supplies and equipment. Compared to regular, centralized solutions, the one based on blockchain improves traceability, contract enforcement & management, damage & mishandling management, oversight on counterfeiting, auditing, and at the end — consumer trust, with end-users being able to learn the ins and outs of an item they are looking to buy.
2. Health Records Management
Blockchain's ability to use time stamping to authenticate changes to a dataset, even if more than one user has permission to edit a document, is said to be ideal for managing Electronic Health Records (EHR) data. In fact, current EHR systems were not designed to manage multi-institutional, lifetime medical records. This in turn leads to the situation in which patients leave data scattered across various organizations as life events take them away from one provider's data silo and into another.
In contrast, a blockchain-based system puts the patient in the driver's seat, letting him/her authorize third parties such as doctors and nurses to access and modify their health records. Also, it is the patient who is able to let health systems share these records with other organizations.
3. Population Health
Generally speaking, on the other end of most EHR solutions is the population health "module." And with a blockchain-based EHR, organizations across the healthcare spectrum can potentially get access to higher quality data, which should then aid their population health efforts while making sure patients get more personalized treatments.
4. Patient Matching
A blockchain-based system can meet the needs of master patient ID as long as there is consensus on what the requirements should be. And that's arguably the harder part — for all the parties to agree on what constitutes a global or universal patient ID, and later implement it in their respective solutions. Then, once an agreement on a starting point for patient ID is reached, blockchain can meet those needs and be flexible enough to keep up with the pace of change.
5. Patient Engagement
When the patient data is stored in a blockchain, it can be easily and safely moved between existing physician and patient data silos, all while offering improved data management and security. In addition, because of the technology's underlying structure, a blockchain-based solution could offer digital incentives to encourage patients/users to complete certain fitness activities and take charge of their own healthcare, with their efforts earning them tokens.
Depending on the partnerships the platform provider has established with third parties, these tokens can then be exchanged for real-life products, discounts, co-pays, coupons and even converted into money.
6. Care Coordination
The patient encounters with the healthcare system are seldom connected, especially if he/she moves from one state to the other (or even one country to the other). The same goes for any communication a patient has with physicians — even if it's electronic communication, its record seldom leaves the premises (servers) of that particular hospital.
Blockchain as a decentralized ledger can play an important role to store not only patient data, but also all encounters a patient has with healthcare providers. Such, unifying solution could go beyond "basic" health records to include longitudinal data to the mix, linking and connecting all care provider encounters and communication through a single platform.
Compared to popular services like 23andMe and Ancestry, a blockchain-based system could include end users in the equation, allowing them to control their own genomic data and profit from sharing it. In this scenario, users would get discounted rates for whole genome sequencing if they agree to share their data to third parties. This in turn could lead to an increase in the amount of genomic information available for analysis from where machine learning algorithms would kick in to find correlations between genetic variants and diseases from these larger data sets.
Furthermore, as the genome data buyers (pharma companies) and genome data providers (individuals) would be directly connected, the buyers will be able to obtain more information about phenotypes and family histories, in addition to genotypes.
8. Insurance Claims Processing
The current system entails all brokers and insurers involved in an insurance contract independently running all of the checks, thus creating significant duplication and delay in the placement process which impacts the client. With blockchain, all the relevant data is stored in one place and available to those who require access, removing the need to check the same data multiple times.
Moreover, the system could be developed to use smart contracts to "tune into other blockchains" — such as the one with patient medical records (EHR) — to further streamline procedures, and shorten the application process from an average of 45 days to near real time.
9. Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are said to be among the best use cases for blockchain. For start, blockchain acts as an ultimate data notary, storing and securing data as it happens. It provides a safe environment that is virtually impossible to hack, infringe or steal — while making auditing that much easier.
In addition, a blockchain-based system can streamline patient recruitment, consents and use smart contracts to automate many of today's manual tasks. For instance, a simple mechanism could be deployed to automatically move patients from one group or one phase to the other once certain conditions have been met.
In addition, blockchain could also be used to streamline the communication between doctors and patients during the trial, with specific smart contracts being used to endorse transparency and traceability over clinical trial sequences, as well as provide financial incentives for a patient's participation and sharing of their data.
10. Fighting the Opioid Epidemic
A few experts have suggested that blockchain could be a useful tool in combating the opioid epidemic. For start, the technology's ability to improve supply chain management makes it ideal for keeping a close eye on opiods (and any other drug for that matter), tracking them from production down to local pharmacies.
On the other hand, as blockchain enters the health records "space," it could also aid in population health efforts of hospitals, health systems and governments; helping them better control the outbreaks.
Finally, the decentralized nature of blockchain makes it a great tool for researchers around the world to collaborate on the development of opioid alternatives.
Storing and securing data in a blockchain across multiple nodes could prevent ransomware attacks. If a hacker manages to get hold of one computer in the network, there are always others that contain the same data. And even with all the data from the blockchain at hand, a hacker could do little without private keys. That's the whole point, to encrypt the data so it falls into the wrong hands — it can't be misused, all while having reserve copies on other nodes in the network.
If we look at the infamous WannaCry attack, a blockchain-based system would make it ineffective by having continuously synchronized and secure backups of all personal information. Because all the data is encrypted and available on multiple computers, it would be extremely difficult for a cyberattack to hold a hospital to ransom.
Want to learn more?
We have just scratched the surface here. For more details, you can check out DHbriefs' full report entitled "Blockchain in Healthcare: Decentralized Computing Changing the Industry." It offers more details along with links to the companies providing services and solutions in the categories listed above.
Better yet, get it as part of the "DHbriefs Premium Membership" that also includes other reports, including "Introduction to Digital Health," the report focused on the use of eXtended Reality technologies - "XR in Healthcare", "Senior Care 2.0" along with regular updates. Right now, DHbriefs is running a promotional offer for this Membership bundle, allowing anyone to reap the benefits of the fast-growing digital health industry. Check it out.