Shaping the Healthcare Ecosystem with Blockchain

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Blockchain has become a hot topic of discussion these days as it has made its way into a number of industries. From banking, to finance, to infrastructure—blockchain has penetrated every sphere of work. Healthcare is another realm that has found growing demand for the technology. The collaboration of healthcare and blockchain has resulted in interoperability that changes the conventional way of sharing a patient’s healthcare data across entities in the value chain.

Before going deep into how healthcare is powered by blockchain, here is a brief introduction to the concept of blockchain.

Simplifying Blockchain

Blockchain technology at its core consist of three main components-:

  • Distributed network
  • Digital transactions
  • And stored ledger

In a distributed network of computers, group of members or users can share their data electronically. The sharing is basically classified as peer-to-peer transactions that are structured into a block that contains cryptographic hash. This digital information is shared onto a stored ledger which is open to all members in the network. Despite being open and public, the data is secured.

The process sounds simple right? But the main catch is that these shared ledgers of records and transactions can neither be deleted or edited without the prior consent of other peers in the network. When a peer sends information to another peer over the network, the same is validated by every member in the group. Only the approved transaction gets added on to the record of existing transactions.

How Blockchain Powers Healthcare

The implications of blockchain in the realm of healthcare industry are widespread. As there are a number of departments catering to different healthcare treatments within an integrated practice unit (IPU) such as dieticians, obstetrics, etc., it becomes difficult to get access to all the information when needed. To overcome these shortcomings, blockchain technology facilitates interoperability by sharing the data of different physicians. It has the power to connect all the fragmented systems irrespective of location and geographies to generate quick and better results. For instance, patients undergoing treatment for similar chronic conditions such as chronic gastritis can be identified and grouped together. This identified group can share their test results, blood group and other clinical trials over the distributed network. With this shared access to the patient’s data, the physician can determine the best treatment plans. As blockchain offers the application of smart contracts, possible treatments are shared through distributed networks.

On the other hand, using a private blockchain can enable monitoring the accuracy of edits such as new diagnoses and results. Different sharing parameters can be set to limit the access of patient’s health data. For instance, you might want to share your blood type onto the chain, but not your HIV results.

Why Blockchain is the Solution

For patients, their health database security and confidentiality are essential. However, as data is tangible it can be accessed in bytes and bits that sometimes compromise its authenticity. Data that is available in a computer can also be tweaked as any administrator who has access to the network or files can edit or corrupt the same. With blockchain these shortcomings are eliminated. The biggest catch of blockchain is that it lacks a central administrator. Users have access to and full control over their data.

The access to confidential patient data is streamlined with blockchain as it eliminates the chance of duplication of data, committing errors and other discrepancies that may occur with traditional data storage.

Another benefit is that it enables the use of smart contract applications that allow medical professionals to enter into treatment contract with patients directly on the network thus reducing the potential for issues to arise from intermediaries. Moreover, the number of unnecessary tests and clinical trials is significantly reduced as the test result that was earlier carried out by one clinic can be shared through the network to other practitioners.

How Blockchain Fits with Healthcare

Blockchain application will enhance the healthcare ecosystem as a whole. This is mainly through the elimination of third parties and middlemen. Moreover, several challenges which the industry faces such as fragmented data, security among others are streamlined. Also, the authentication controls of shared transactions lower the risk of data theft and other digital fraud.

Below is a table that provide an insight into how blockchain will complement the healthcare industry.

Challenges Faced by Healthcare Industry How Blockchain Fits in
  • Huge piles of fragmented data either in digital form or on paper
  • Shared storage that is not centralized through computer network
  • Patients data can be shared across nodes
  • Access to fragmented data
  • Secured access to distributed patients health data through shared ledgers that are distributed over the network.
  • Real-time access to updated patient health data
  • Interoperability of systems
  • Decentralized network that is connected and can be operated across geographies.
  • With blockchain there is no central administrator of information and thus it cannot be corrupted. Besides, digital identity protects patient’s privacy
  • Access to patient generated data
  • Data generated through internet of thing (IoT) or medical devices at home can also be shared onto distributed ledger
  • Chronological access to data
  • With blockchain, the data shared on distributed network is stored chronologically thus eliminating the need of shuffling between files
  • Eliminate intermediaries and third-party applications

Conclusion

Considering the complexity of the healthcare sector, the use of blockchain will have enormous benefits. Looking at its huge potential, blockchain will be the next big innovation that will transform the sector. It will revolutionize the way healthcare data is stored and shared. At present, the uptake is slow, but over the next decade wider adoption will come. To fully realize the potential, healthcare providers need to understand its implications for the sector.



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