Throughout the course of history, mankind has had the misfortune of going through medical calamities which have cost countless lives. Back in the fourteenth century, the Great Plague which is also known as the Black Death, took the lives of an estimated 200 million people which amounted to about 60% of Europe’s population at that time. In more recent times, influenza-based maladies have repeatedly reared its ugly head most notably in the form the Spanish flu in 1918 which took the lives of an estimated 100 million people, reducing the global population at that time by a frightening 6%.
Fast forward to 2020, humanity once again finds itself in the face of a medical crisis as it strives to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic which, similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2002, is of zoonotic origin i.e. caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites which spread from animals to humans. Unlike 2002 when blockchain was still very much in its infancy, technology has come a long way since then, and is ready to lend a helping hand with global efforts to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic.
When it comes to medical issues, the old proverb “prevention is better than cure” certainly holds true. From the outset, the centralized nature of existing medical surveillance systems renders them to be palpably inefficient in times of crisis. A lot of systems have unnecessary procedural bureaucracy within them and delays with regard to the sharing of information between agencies within the medical networks. Besides that, the lack of transparency of centralized medical surveillance systems may lead to issues of underreporting or worse, cover ups by governments.
The use of decentralized blockchain-based medical surveillance systems would go a long way towards addressing the issues of inefficiencies and mitigating the risks of cover ups or underreporting by governments. Through the use of such a medical surveillance system, the automated and interoperable nature of blockchain ledger records would enable medical data stored on these records to be updated in a real-time basis and accessible by local as well as international health agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) in a synchronized manner.
Other than ensuring transparency, the use of permissioned blockchain ledger records would ensure that the benefits of efficiency and transparency would not be obtained at the cost of privacy as these records will only be accessible to those who are equipped with the requisite cryptographic access keys. In this connection, it is notable that Chinese technological giant Huawei has already put in place plans to use blockchain to facilitate the sharing of medical data in China to bolster national efforts in tackling the COVID-19 epidemic.
In times of great medical distress, the collective brotherhood of humanity comes together in the spirit of altruism and compassion. Nonetheless, the capitalist nature of the global economy remains operating in the background. As a result, financial matters relating to monetary fundings for medical provisions and healthcare services still have to be addressed and dealt with appropriately. A critical issue which arises is the financing of the required medical provisions whereby the issue of corruption tends to stand in the way of public donations reaching the needy. Blockchain with its transparent and immutable features can prevent such occurrences, ensuring public donations for medical provisions will not end up in the wrong hands. A notable use case example in this regard is Hyperchain’s blockchain-based charity platform which facilitates the traceability of the funds donated in aid of the COVID-19 medical relief efforts.
Other than charitable donations, another financial-related area which is pertinent in the context of medical outbreaks is that of payments for the provision of healthcare services. Depending on the precise framework of the public healthcare scheme of the relevant country, victims of medical outbreaks may have to shoulder their own hospital bills. In times of medical outbreaks when the crisis situation renders time to be of the essence, the decentralized and trust-free nature of blockchain goes a long way towards speeding up the medical insurance claim process. Case in point is the collective claim-sharing platform of China’s Xiang Hu Bao which has been able to leverage blockchain to speed up the verification process for claims relating to the COVID-19 epidemic made on its platform.
History has taught us that medical outbreaks can and do happen from time to time. In the modern world where air travel is the norm with the global population crisscrossing the four corners of the globe, the proper mitigation of the risks of a medical outbreak developing into an epidemic before turning into a full-blown pandemic is crucial to secure the survival of mankind. As with most things in the twenty-first century, blockchain may prove itself to be the tool which will serve as the technological saviour of humanity.
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