You may not be aware but one of the healthcare sector’s biggest headaches has nothing to do with diseases or medicines. It’s the state of its data management practices that is causing appalling inefficiencies and costing the industry a ton of money. That’s why stakeholders are looking at blockchain in healthcare as the decisive solution to their problems.
Blockchain’s decentralized architecture makes it easier for users to communicate and coordinate with each other. This is good news for an industry where standards are virtually non-existent, especially when it comes to handling and sharing data. Getting users to work together is a big first step toward improving the system’s efficiency.
Standards are important too, especially in an industry as large and as fragmented as healthcare. Blockchain will force users to adhere to very stringent standards. This will streamline the entire healthcare process, ensuring the accuracy of medical data and speeding up its transfer from patient to providers.
Finally, blockchain offers viable cybersecurity options to safeguard patient and other confidential data. Healthcare providers currently collect and store valuable personal information and may need to pass these along to other users within the system. This makes them prime targets for cybercriminals and malicious actors. To impede this, blockchain provides a tough layer of defense against many types of attacks.
It appears that the healthcare sector has found its holy grail, at least in the area of efficient information management. But is blockchain technology truly the cure-all for the healthcare industry, or is it just a placebo?
Is Blockchain a Difficult Pill to Swallow?
It’s easy to understand all the excitement around blockchain in healthcare. And there is genuine potential to the idea of using the technology to fix the industry. But there are a few essential realities that healthcare must first address.
The biggest reality check is that it’s way too early in the game to be sure about what blockchain can do for the industry and how far the benefits can go. It’s already a daunting challenge right now trying to get everyone to agree to standards. It will take even more effort once the healthcare providers agree on the specifications, especially when they need to make changes later on. For example, interoperability among healthcare providers requires them to exchange data with each other using a standard format. Blockchain will impose a structure that all participants must adhere to, but some may hesitate because of the costs and complexities involved in complying with this.
The next concern is that healthcare organizations will have to shoulder the cost of the technology. There are currently no free blockchain frameworks and development tools available, and there are no economies of scale yet to distribute the cost of building new tools and systems. It will be quite expensive to develop new blockchain systems to update or replace current IT setups. Also, it will take much effort and disruption to change established ways of how healthcare providers currently think and work.
In the end, it all boils down to being a process issue. Sure, you can trust that the ledger is secure, but can you be certain that the data being input by health workers, for example during a routine checkup, is correct, in the first place? If you can be sure that data sources are accurate, why would you even need blockchain? Why not just pull in data directly from these sources?
Applications of Blockchain in Healthcare
Blockchain holds a lot of promise. That is why it is a popular topic among industry leaders. Here are some ways blockchain can be incorporated in healthcare.
Patient data management
- Blockchain systems register patient consents for instances like medical data exchange, enabling smooth data transfers despite state regulations.
- A blockchain system ensures that patient records are secure and only relevant data is provided to authorized parties.
Verified medical records
- Medical records created by physicians and laboratories will be chronicled in blockchain’s distributed ledger, where transaction histories are unchangeable.
- Data standardization enforced by blockchain can allow researchers to aggregate patient information for more effective research and care delivery.
- In clinical trial phases, proofs of existence of data (patient consents, test results, etc.) will be recorded and unalterable.
- Smart contracts can be drawn to govern the details of these trials, provide financial incentives for participants, and enhance communication between doctors and patients.
- By tracking and tracing drugs using blockchain, supply chains are optimized, with less complexities of transferring data during shipments.
- As transaction histories of legitimate drugs are immutable, supply chain corruptions that allow counterfeit drugs are easier to prevent.
- Insurance providers can receive detailed and accurate data when evaluating prospective policyholders’ health.
- Evaluations on insurance compliance and expenses will be more accurate, as blockchain registers patient activities like purchases and medical exams.
The healthcare industry can certainly benefit from blockchain’s ability to unify data and make processes more efficient. But it must first find a cure for the many ills that could negate any benefits from adopting the technology.