BLOCK CHAIN IN HEALTHCARE: A ONE-STOP SOLUTION?
“A review of the various application-areas of blockchain in healthcare and the solutions it can provide to the existing problems"
These words by Hyperledger are a strong reflection on the potential of this exciting technology of Blockchain to disrupt the world. What got introduced via Bitcoin in 2008 has today, spread itself across different sectors ranging from healthcare to finance to supply-chain and many else. Industries all over the word are appreciating and accepting this innovation and here, we shall discuss about one such industry- the healthcare industry.
We shall discuss about usage of blockchain in this sector, the problems in healthcare and how blockchain can contribute in solving these problems. But before we proceed further and discuss all these stuff, let’s first have an introduction to blockchain:
What is Blockchain?
Lets keep the intro simple here. Going by the literal meaning of Block-chain, it’s a chain of blocks. What’s left is the meaning of “block” and “chain”. So, block is the digital information here and chain is the database on which this information is stored.
So, basically Blockchain is a technology which describes chain of transactions or data records which are linked to each other via cryptographic signatures (hash), stored in ledgers and which are aided by a seamless network of connected processes which are known as nodes. The technology works in such a way that the data is unchangeable (immutable) before reaching the recipient.
Due to it being decentralized, and the immutability and transparency it provides, Blockchain has gained a world-wide admiration. Sectors all over the world are fastly adopting it and the number of block-chain based startups are growing at an unprecedented rate. If we go by stats, the valuation of global market in blockchain shall be able to reach all the way up to approx $20 billion in 2024. This is pretty promising to say the least.
So, that’s all for the intro! We shall move now towards the core of this article-:
Blockchain in healthcare : Review
While it would be wrong to say that the medical field hasn’t achieved innovation, especially when we have a look at the increased life-expectancy rates in the world but at the very same time, it would be pretty-much fair to state that the healthcare-sector has lacked in horizontal innovation i.e. the ways hospitals work. For example, Hospitals still use papers, files, fax-machines etc. to record and transfer data which clearly shows a lack of horizontal innovation.
All these issues show that this health-care sector is perfectly poised to take advantage of the disruption blockchain can bring. Block-chain could completely transform the way data is stored and transmitted in this industry. And the stats show the industry is ready for it!
A survey done by Hyperledger shows that approx, 42.9% of healthcare organizations believe in a swift blockchain implementation due to the interoperability that exists with electronic health records. It goes on to state that approx 28.6% of respondents are ready to use Blockchain in care settings from today itself. The total market for blockchain in healthcare shall be able to exceed 500 Million USD by 2022 with a whopping expected CAGR of 70%.
It’s clear now that Blockchain is gonna expand a lot in the healthcare sector in the upcoming years but now, lets have a look at the reasons for it- i.e. what are the benefits that integration of blockchain in healthcare can provide-:
Benefits of integrating Blockchain in healthcare-:
Blockchain can bring a total revolution in the healthcare sector while providing numerous advantages-:
1. Data Provenance and Integrity
3. Supply Chain efficiency
5. Better handling of payment-claims
Lets discuss each of these in brief one-by-one-:
Data Provenance and Integrity
Medical agencies have to deal with tons of data related to PHI (Patient’s Health Information), health records, insurance claims and much more. Blockchain can keep all this data in one single-place and its’ encryption insures that data is unchangeable and can’t be removed too. Blockchain also provides the users a chance to verify the information using a proof generated while anchoring data to public blockchain.
With the current healthcare organisations working through a single database, it’s prone to cyber-attacks which if not prevented, can put the health of a huge number of patients at risk. Blockchain’s encryption can allow for a large organization with multiple levels of access on a blockchain ledger which can increase security by many folds.
Supply Chain Efficiency
Blockchain can have great benefits for the current medicine supply chain which spans from manufacturing centres to wholesalers to retailers and then finally to customers. Blockchain provides for effective drug checking at manufacturing level and also offers traceability of counterfeit drugs.
By removing intermediaries in the health-sector, blockchain allows the healthcare management to save a lot of bucks. It also saves a lot of money in insurance claims too. As per a report by BIS Research, Healthcare Blockchain could save industry $100B annually by 2025
Better Handling of Payment Claims
Smart Contracts, which are powered by Blockchain allows providers and patients to enter information and data to be verified and the access of this is shared with health insurance companies. This allows for effective settlement of payment-claims and also prevents the huge losses due to insurance frauds
So, by now, we have seen the benefits the healthcare sector can reap with Blockchain. Now, lets have a look at a few common problems in this sector and how Blockchain can help in those-:
Problems and Blockchain-led solutions-:
Problem1 : Drug Counterfeit
This is one of the most serious problems in the pharmaceutical sector with as much as 10-30% drugs out of the total amount of drugs sold in the developing countries being fake. Having a huge market and being tough to trace due to their qualitative and quantitative similarity with normal drugs, these counterfeit drugs can be fatal for patients due to their side-effects or unnecessary treatment.
Due to transactions on block-chain being transparent, immutable and time-stamped, it becomes relatively easier to track a product. Also, company’s access to the private drug blockchain is a proof of the authenticity of that company’s drug, hence keeping a check on fraudalent drug dealers.
Problem2 : Fraud in Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are a research experiment where a group of patients volunteer to be tested in order to know the tolerance and effectiveness of a drug. Large chunk of data are involved in clinical trials making it difficult to track and manage. The frauds involve manipulating or hiding some data either intentionally or unintentionally.
The immutability of blockchain makes it impossible to modify data, and through a unique code, the Blockchain network can also provide the proof of existence for a clinical trial, which may be incredibly helpful in prevention of frauds.
Problem3 – Patient Data Management-:
Patient isn’t allowed the complete access of his data due to the fears of it being modified or deleted with potentially harmful consequences. Also, there is lack of security when concerned with sharing data among medical fraternity.
The blockchain allows for creation of a hash from each patient information along with a patient ID which allows the patient to access or share the data with third-parties like medicine dealers. The medical community can also work on the data once they are provided the access for it.
So, till now, we first saw the benefits of blockchain and the problems it can solve in the healthcare sector. Now, we shall have a look at the challenges it need to overcome before establishing it’s dominance here.
Challenges to Blockchain in healthcare
While the hype around blockchain is understandable given the numerous benefits it provides, but there do exists some challenges it need to overcome. Let’s have a brief look-:
1. Uncertainty in storage- As already discussed, health-industry deals with huge chunk of data, storing which demands large storage. But the storage capacity of Blockchain isn’t certain yet and hence, it paves a big challenges
2. Knowledge gap- Majority of healthcare organizations lack staff with sufficient knowledge for blockchain implementation and this increases the technical barriers
3. Infrastructure and cost- Blockchain would certainly cause a disruption in the medical sector but the shift would require a lot of infrastructural changes and system changes. Also, financial cost of this shift is high.
4. Data Ownership- The uncertainty surrounding the ownership of healthcare data and that who grants permissions for this data poses a big obstacle
5. Rules and Regulations- Blockchain usage in healthcare doesn’t have a specified set of rules and regulations as of now. Also, any rules shall have to comply with the HIPAA privacy regulations
It is so clear that the numerous advantages provided by blockchain makes it a no-brainer to imagine its successful dominance in the healthcare sector and the revolution it can bring. But at the same time, there do exist some obstacles which have to be overcomed for this shift.
However, as always, we shall be ready to embrace these challenges since a Blockchain led healthcare system is inevitable and we shall all be ready for this revolution!
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This article is contributed by Akshay Akash. He is a part-time junior front-end web developer and an on-the-go content writer with an experience and specialization in social media and a noteworthy prowess on Twitter and Quora. He also love applying his analytical skills to solve modern-day business problems and is currently working on a project aimed at merging modern technologies in modern media to make it free from human intervention. He love sharing perspectives with people, so feel free to have a chat!. he is Chemical Engineering student in IIT (BHU) one of the prestigious Technical Institute in India and World.