Back in 2011,Government ministers abandoned a plan to create a universal record system for Britain’s National Health Service. Two years later the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee estimated the aborted scheme would cost the taxpayer upwards of £10bn. It was a less than gentle reminder of something that all large organisation know – transformative IT schemes cost a lot, they don’t always go according to plan or budget, and sometimes they collapse completely.
Fast forward to 2018 and two entrepreneurs – Dr Abdullah Albeyatti and Mohammed Tayeb are seeking to create their own variation on the universal records system theme, based on blockchain technology. And if their ambitions are fulfilled, patients in the UK will be able to take control of their own records, with the data automatically updated every time they see a doctor. What’s more it’s a system that is ultimately designed to facilitate healthcare without borders by enabling patients to move around internationally while maintaining a set of records that is accessible to any medical practitioner.
It is, of course, very different from the UK Government’s ambitious, top down plan to create a whole new IT system for patient data, but there are similarities too. Starting from the bottom up and using the technology du jour ,Albeyatti and Tayeb have come up with a system that may solve some of the problems that British policymakers failed to successfully address almost a decade ago.
Born of Frustration
As Dr. Albeyatti explains, Medicalchain – the company he set up with Tayeb – was born out of his own experience as medical doctor . “I was becoming increasingly frustrated, talking to patients who didn’t have their medical records,” he says.,
To address the problem, Dr Albeyatti partnered with internet entrepreneur Tayeb, who had previously established his own consultancy, specializing in apps development, before going on to work as Head of Development at online insurer Morethan.com.
A Big Problem
Medicalchain is seeking to address a big problem – namely the fragmented nature of health records here in the UK and elsewhere around the globe. In an ideal world, when a patient sees a doctor, the practitioner in question would have access to a complete medical history before deciding on a treatment. In practice, it’s not so simple. A patient might turn up at an accident and emergency department, visit an unfamiliar General Practitioner when away from home, seek private treatment, or see a doctor when travelling abroad. In all of these scenarios, comprehensive records might not be available, simply because the data is stored in local silos.
Dr Albeyatti and Tayeb see blockchain as the solution. Because information is held on the blockchain ledger principle and distributed across multiple computers, records can not only be accessed much more widely but also held by the patient and automatically updated after every consultation.
As Dr Albeyatti sees it, a blockchain-based system that effectively allows patients to ‘own’ their own records reflects current legislation and the expectations of health consumers. “Patients now have a right to read their own records.We are setting up the functionality that is allowing them to do that,” he says.
And in Tayeb’s view, blockchain will bring about a major cultural shift. “This is a very different system,” he says. “All the current systems bypass the patient. We give the data to the patient.”
But here’s the challenge. The records in question already exist and sit on a range of systems. Blockchain may be an enabling technology, but if the Medicalchain system is to get off the ground, the founders require access to, and compatibility with, existing systems. As things stand, the company can integrate with System 1 and EMIS, the two medical data solutions used by GPs in the UK.
So will it work?
Well, progress is being made in terms of getting the system out into the real world. A pilot is underway in the UK and, looking further afield, the company has also gone into partnership with the Mayo Clinic in the USA to develop new uses cases for blockchain based record solutions. Meanwhile, Medicalchain has also developed MyClinic.com, a system allowing patients to pay for private medical care around the world using blockchain tokens.
It’s probably wrong to see blockchain as a kind of magic bullet that will address all of the world’s data management problems. It is, after all, just another technology – another way of doing things – and the use cases are still being worked out. But blockchain has already disrupted segments of the financial services market. And according to Medicalchain’s founders, the ability of the technology to facilitate secure and verifiable transactions at relatively low cost on a global basis is as applicable to the world of medical record keeping as it is to fintech innovation.