Blockchain: The Technology Revamping the Healthcare Industry

Blockchain is a distributed database existing on multiple computers at the same time.

Ever heard of this term, Blockchain? Well if you are in the technology industry, you might be familiar or might have heard it vaguely somewhere. If not, you must have heard ‘Bitcoin’, the digital currency which is turning tides in the trade industry and is one of the most trending topics on search engines and social media. So how are Bitcoin and Blockchain related? Well Bitcoin is the simpler implementation of Blockchain as a digital currency.

Blockchain is a distributed database existing on multiple computers at the same time. It is constantly growing as new sets of recordings, or ‘blocks’, are added to it. Each block contains a timestamp and a link to the previous block, so they actually form a chain. The database is not managed by any particular body; instead, everyone in the network gets a copy of the whole database. Old blocks are preserved forever and new blocks are added to the ledger irreversibly, making it impossible to manipulate by faking documents, transactions and other information.

All blocks are encrypted in a special way, so everyone can have access to all the information but only a user who owns a special cryptographic key is able to add a new record to a particular chain. As long as you remain the only person who knows the key, no one can manipulate your transactions. In addition, cryptography is used to guarantee synchronization of copies of the blockchain on each computer (or node) in the network. To know more about Blockchain, watch this video.

Blockchain for Healthcare

Although there has been lots of technological advancements in the healthcare industry, the healthcare providers are still facing issues in maintaining the EHR and are still waiting for a standard process or technology to come to their rescue. A vast majority of hospital systems still cant easily/safely share their data. Privacy has always remained a concern. Doctors are spending more time typing than talking to patients and it’s wearing on them which is in turn reflecting on patient healthcare. Hence streamlining the EHR process has become the No. 1 priority right now. So how do we streamline this process? Here is when we think about Blockchain.

You can think of blockchain as a digital medical record: every record is a block which has a label stating the date and time when the record was entered. The medical history is extremely important for diagnosis and treatment purposes, so neither the doctor nor the patient should be able to modify the records already made. Nevertheless, the doctor owns a private key that allows him to make new records, and the patient owns a public key that allows him to access the records anytime. This method makes the data both accessible and secure.

So, blockchain is by definition independent, transparent, and secure. The advantages of such a distributed ledger are obvious: being it cost and risk reduction, data security, or transactions transparency, companies from most industries can surely benefit from this new technology.

Blockchain Applications for EHR

  1. Each event on the blockchain has a unique hash key corresponding to the contents of a record. Hence this will ensure file integrity since an authorized user can verify if the contents of the record have been changed or not.
  2. Each user(doctor, patient, nurse or other authorized user) will have particular user permissions and therefore, only authorized personnel may access record information. This will ensure cybersecurity.
  3. Each party has a record linked to the original record that is registered to the blockchain. This way, everyone who has the appropriate role and responsibility, can append information to the record avoiding issues such as inconsistent or duplicate records.

Other uses of Blockchain in Healthcare

  1. A medicine can be traced right from the manufacturer to the wholesalers, pharmacists and patients. This will help in medicine counterfeit issues.
  2. Altering or modifying data from clinical trials fraudulently can be eradicated.
  3. Patients, researchers and medical providers can collaborate to produce precision medication focussed on individualized care.
  4. Genomics research via access to genetic data secured on blockchain.
  5. Nationwide interoperability. 

What is in it for Patients

With healthcare providers getting a systematic process for maintaining the EHR, it will mean that the patients will receive more personalized care and their healthcare will not get compromised. With the growing efforts in genomics towards cancer detection, if blockchain supports the process, it will mean better solutions for those who are fighting cancer or those who have a chance of developing cancer. With better EHR system, it will ensure that the patient records are safe and secure and the confidentiality in maintained. This will also reduce the chance of fraud and abuse towards the patients.

Current Industry Trends and Conclusion

According to Statista (2016), the size of the blockchain technology market worldwide from 2017 to 2021 will be expected to grow to 2.3 billion U.S. dollars by 2021 from 339.5 million U.S. dollars in 2017. These estimated forecasts are based on an annual constant growth rate of 61.5%.

Although Blockchain convinces us to provide a safe and secure healthcare management system, we need to wait till more more trials and experiments have been carried out to ensure a secure and established system is implanted before using blockchain technology on a large scale in healthcare.