The Revolution of Blockchain in Healthcare Industry
editor - October 19, 2018

In the past few decades, the advancement of technology has tremendously transformed every single part of our daily lives, ranging from communication channels, payment methods to information access and beyond. Following the success of Internet, Blockchain is widely recognized as a technology that will revolutionize innumerable fields including finance, supply chain, and education. Particularly, many industries are investing heavily in blockchain technology, especially healthcare.

Blockchain – The most optimal solution

Blockchain is still in its relative infancy; hence, the perception that blockchain is similar to bitcoin and cryptocurrencies has caused people uncertain and cautious about applying it to such a crucial spectrum like healthcare. Meanwhile, stakeholders still believe that by leveraging blockchain in several ways, this technology can bring enormous benefit for healthcare industry.

Image Source:  Storm Ventures

Since the striking global health crisis, humans are becoming more health conscious. According to reports, the healthcare expenditure worldwide has risen considerably in the past few years, leading to numerous problems such as big data management, data breaches, cyber-security, etc. In addition, the increasing number of counterfeit drugs is also another emerging threat.

So, what is blockchain? Blockchain is a technology which generates immutable and decentralized records of data that is shared on a peer to peer network. Blockchain is programmed to record all digital transactions in a way that the data is theoretically protected and free from tamper. Hence, thanks to its advantages, blockchain technology can be the greatest solution to several healthcare issues and is considered the missing piece in digital transformation of healthcare.

The disruption of Blockchain

# Drug traceability

One of the most pressing issues of pharmacology is counterfeit drugs. A research by Health Research Funding Organization (HRFO) showed that approximately 10%-30% of drugs in developing countries are fake, and this number is predicted to rise year by year. These kinds of drugs are seriously detrimental to patient’s health.

In such light, with blockchain-based solution, the authenticity of all products registered in the system can be validated by users, meaning that users can trace the origin of any products by themselves. To start with, healthcare companies shall register their products in the system first with the purpose of ensuring the quality and authenticity of those medicines. Subsequently, the whole process since a drug is manufactured and transferred to retailers and finally reaches end consumers is entirely recorded and stored on blockchain. The transparency of blockchain makes it extremely easy to verify the whole journey of the drug, eliminating counterfeit drug proliferation, enhancing efficiency in pharmaceutical industry and protecting consumers and branding of the company.

A typical example is FarmaTrust – a blockchain-based platform which is developed so as to the enhance the integrity of medicine supply chain. The platform powers network connecting pharmacies, logistic & shipping companies, wholesalers and retailers, hospitals as well as regulators which allows these parties to track and prove genuine products.

Image Source:  GCN

# Clinical trials

Clinical trials are the experiments of analyzing the effectiveness of particular medicines against a specific disease. During clinical trials, researchers collect and record a lot of information including test results, patient demographic and information on adverse reactions, etc and come up with a final report to decide whether the therapy should be implemented or not. Nevertheless, each scientist conducts and is responsible for different investigation, which is difficult and sophisticated to control. As a result, the modification, concealment and manipulation of research data can be easily carried out with the view to change the entire outcome.

In order to intensify the transparency and integrity of clinical trials, researchers can take full advantage of blockchain technology. With superior features, blockchain provides proof-of-existence for clinical trials, adding the results of experiments in the form of immutable transaction and making it almost impossible to modify data.

Practical use case of blockchain in clinical trials is still in progress and has not been officially launched yet. However, the establishment of Blockchain for Clinical Trial Forum in 2017 could be a great first step for the development of blockchain application.

Image Source:  Anca Petre

# Patient data management

Currently, a patient’s medical history is a complex string in which data is dispersed across numerous providers including primary care doctor, health specialists, wearable devices tracking health, and so on. Additionally, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) imposes strict regulation on personal data privacy, requiring that personal health information (PHI) to be secured properly. Problems arise when the patient himself wants to share his medical records to third parties and such partial access can negatively affect the accuracy of information.

Blockchain creates a hash for each PHI block, along with a patient ID, assembling all single information and providing the entire comprehensive record of a patient’s health.  A blockchain-based standard enables every change to be verified, combined with other transactions and added as a block to a larger blockchain. With the contribution of API, involved parties can acquire the necessary information without unveiling a patient’s identity. Furthermore, patient can make decision on whom to provide with access and whether this access will be either full or partial.

MedRec is a practical use case of blockchain application on securing medical records management. MedRec is the combination of a social need with a technological enabler: a system that prioritizes patient agency, giving a transparent and accessible view of medical history.

Will blockchain replace current healthcare system?

The potential benefits that blockchain can bring to healthcare sector are indispensable; however, there are still many difficulties and challenges which the technology may face with such as cybersecurity. The question on whether blockchain will replace the current healthcare system is still unknown at the moment. Nevertheless, as a technology and innovation enabler, blockchain is foreseen to disrupt numerous industries and among which healthcare might not be an exception.

 

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