A potential solution to some of these drawbacks is to use blockchain technology in custom healthcare apps. The idea of a transparent distributed public ledger emerged with the birth of cryptocurrencies in 2008, but the underlying technology is useful beyond bitcoins. A blockchain is a set of interlinked data nodes arranged chronologically, which can’t be modified once the system records them.
Some of the blockchain characteristics are very attractive for the healthcare sector: decentralization, robustness, data traceability, audit simplicity, and security. Using it implies a paradigm shift from an institution-based approach to that focused on patients. This helps give people more control over their medical records. If a patient has ownership and access to their electronic health records, they can move between different healthcare providers more easily.
Blockchain Applications in Healthcare
Although you can’t provide care directly via a blockchain, it has numerous use cases in care administration: managing patients’ records, ensuring correct cost control, protecting patient data, tracing the supply chain, and more.
Streamlined Communication and Medical Records
Every medical professional who needs access to a patient’s electronic healthcare record should follow strict procedures. This leads to wasted time and human errors. Blockchain technology allows for faster access to records, quicker diagnostics, and more customized treatment plans.
The reasoning behind this approach is there is much redundancy in care delivery. Every time the patient needs care, they need to fill in the same papers. Instead, a simple identifier could help the doctor pull the patient’s entire medical history and just add to that their new symptoms and medications.
Personalized medicine is becoming the norm, but defining “healthy” is still a matter of comparing individual records with average outcomes for particular demographic cohorts, taking into consideration associated conditions. Data pulled from EHRs can be anonymized for studies and used for each patient to see how they are doing in comparison with their peers in the same age and gender groups. This approach is already used by fitness apps to track users’ activities and progress, but its scope can be extended.
Matching Patients with Their Data
Correct patient matching seems essential, but a lot of medical records contain errors generated by mismatches that result from transfers between different systems. This comes from a harmful medical practice of hospitals called information blocking where they keep patient data locked in their silos. Blockchain can help solve this problem, providing it is a permissioned network with only authorized parties allowed.
Supply Chain Traceability
One of the main problems in healthcare is the authenticity and traceability of the ingredients used in drugs and the quality of the final product, which can be counterfeit. Blockchain can be used to solve this problem as it allows tracing the connection between a drug and its manufacturer and associated research labs. This can also help save millions of dollars since the prescription drugs market is one of the most affected by counterfeit production.
A blockchain-based ledger can record all the intermediaries and entities involved in the supply chain and assure the patient they are getting the real product. Blockchain is also a helpful tool for regulatory authorities. By scanning a barcode or a QR code, they can verify the drug along with its associated shipment transactions.
Many people are afraid of putting their data into electronic systems because of potential security issues. Blockchain is fully transparent yet it also helps protect sensitive data with end-to-end encryption and the use of private keys. Patients can have full access to their data at any given point and also see who else has accessed their records. This can help fight unwanted indiscretion, a problem hard to prevent with paper records.
Real-Life Example and Conclusions
One large-scale application of blockchain in healthcare is the Estonian e-Health system, which is 99 percent digitized based on the patient’s national ID. Estonian medics have access to an interconnected e-ambulance system that offers real-time information about the patient they are going to treat. Another integrated system is a drug interaction and e-prescription database. It warns doctors to change the drug if it interferes with the patient’s existing condition or another medication the patient is taking.
Healthcare is a sector striving to reduce costs while offering services of exceptional standards. Blockchain technology can help with these goals while maintaining privacy and helping researchers use anonymized data for further studies. It can also be the link in transitioning from curative to preventive care, which further saves money and enhances the life quality of patients.