INTRODUCTION TO THE IDEA
“Healthcare is yet to be transformed by technology.” The renowned American businessman, Joshua Koshner has very rightly given this statement. Developed countries like the USA plan to spend 20% of their GDP on healthcare in future. The Healthcare industry spends jarring costs due to data breaches and inefficient practices in data management. In this case, Blockchain comes to the rescue. It can certainly pop this spending bubble with great ease.
WHAT IS BLOCKCHAIN?
Blockchain is an immutable, decentralised form of database that stores information. As the name suggests, it is a chain or a series of blocks that store data like the date, time and amount of transactions. There are various types of blockchains like public, private and permissioned. A public blockchain allows anyone to contribute to the network. Hence public blockchains are both decentralised and democratic. Opposite to this, permissioned blockchains allow only verified participants to join the network. Private and permissioned blockchains are similar in function with one difference. The difference is that a particular organisation owns a Private blockchain.
The most important feature associated with blockchains is security. Each block within a blockchain contains a hash of the previous block. A hash is a cryptographic key. These keys are stored in the shared ledger. The keys are also connected by a mesh of nodes that join them. Each node contains a copy of the whole chain which is synchronised and updated constantly. Therefore hashing makes it difficult to alter the blocks. Thus it ensures immutability. Moreover, incentivising miners ensures integrity as they disapprove malicious transactions. These mechanisms ensure the high security of data
HOW DO WE USE BLOCKCHAIN IN MEDICINE?
Blockchain has a wide range of applications in the field of medicine.
STORING PATIENT DATA
Blockchain can keep a decentralised, incorruptible and transparent log of patient data. Since the Blockchain would be private, it would store the sensitive data safely with complex codes involved in it. Decentralisation of data would also allow patients and faculty to access the information, saving the time involved therein. Therefore, Blockchain can create a constantly updated single ledger of health records for rapid transfer by authorised parties.
SECURE DATA STORAGE
The safety and security of patient data have prime importance. Over 176 million patient records were leaked due to data breaches between 2009 and 2017. Important details like health and genomic testing records were stolen. In such a case blockchain provides safety of data through its security features. Each individual can have a private key that would unlock data only when required. Thence, blockchain can store data safely and securely.
SEAMLESS SHARING DATA TRANSFER
The data stored on the blockchain can be readily shared with healthcare providers. This can be done through a shareable private key. Hence blockchain can easily eliminate the time wasted in sharing information with health care providers. It would ensure speedy treatment without time lag. Therefore, Blockchain would improve Health Information Technology (HIT).
Surprisingly, a whopping amount of $11 billion is wasted annually due to inefficiencies in data management. The processes involved in obtaining data access related to medical records are very time-consuming. These processes not only exhaust the staff resources involved but also lead to delays in inpatient care. Decentralisation of medical records helps save the time wasted in providing data access to faculties. This way Blockchain would facilitate faster diagnosis and treatment.
SUPPLY CHAIN TRACEABILITY
Decentralisation has serious implications in terms of supply chain traceability. It ensures full transparent supply chain management. Patients can get appropriate answers to concerns related to the supply chain. The ledger once created, can record data at every step of the shipping journey. It would record important details like the information about the supplier.
TRACKING DISEASE OUTBREAKS
Blockchain can help in real-time disease reporting. It would also facilitate the recognition of disease patterns. This can in turn help in identifying transmission parameters.
SAFETY OF GENOMICS
In 2001, the cost to process a human genome was $1 billion. But today, it is just $1000. Hence, the ability of genomics to improve health has certainly become a financial and scientific reality. But these days genomics data theft has become a serious issue. A large number of companies bring individual DNA sequencing. Therefore the security of genomics data is a serious concern. Blockchain provides a potential solution to this. It can provide an online market, where scientists can buy encrypted data for research purposes. This would also eliminate the middlemen and time involved in the purpose earlier. So, blockchain is a perfect fit for this purpose as it can store precious genomics data safely.
A GLANCE AT SOME SUCCESS STORIES
Blockchain in healthcare is certainly not an unexplored arena. Several platforms have already reaped the benefits of blockchain and others are planning to do so. BurstIQ is a platform that helps companies manage patient data safely and securely. Factom has employed blockchain technology to store digital health records safely. Factom also received a grant of $200000 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to integrate data from Border Patrol cameras and sensors. MedicalChain maintains a record of the origin and patient identity. In May 2018 MedicalChain launched a telemedicine platform to consult doctors via video call. Guardtime which is located in California helps healthcare companies to implement blockchain technology in their operations. The company uses blockchain for cybersecurity applications. Robomed has combined AI and blockchain to offer patients better treatment. The company also uses chatbots to collect patient information and share it with the medical team. The Taipei Medical University has recently implemented blockchain technology including Robomed’s network. This was done to store and secure medical records more easily.
Most importantly, the government agency, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses blockchain to monitor diseases and report outbreaks. Additionally, IBM is working with CDC to develop a blockchain-based surveillance system. Subsequently, this would also help public health agencies to collect patient data effectively.
THE FINAL THOUGHT
Developed countries spend a good share of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in healthcare. The U.S government plans to spend 20% of its GDP on healthcare soon. Hospital costs are whopping and inefficient practices in data management further aggravate the. Blockchain can reduce these costs substantially. Estonia has been an initiative taker in this regard. It began harnessing the benefits of blockchain technology in healthcare in 2012. Today almost all of the healthcare billing in the country is processed through blockchain. Almost 95% of patient data is ledger-based while 99% of prescription data is digital.
Today, blockchain is used in various fields like education, finance and data management. Blockchain has a wide variety of applications in healthcare. It facilitates the secure transfer of patient medical records, supply chain, management and handling of genetic code. Inculcating blockchain technology can improve the efficacy of operations in health care. Currently, we are in the initial phase of using blockchain. Therefore, we need extensive research in this field. We also need pilot surveys to understand the efficacy and limitations of the technology. Blockchain will not only reduce costs but would also improve the safety and security of data.
The significance of innovations is indispensable. Also, change is the only constant. Therefore, encouraging innovations and accepting changes is the need of the hour.