Blockchain is emerging as the most innovative technology set to transform the landscape of almost every industry on the planet, and healthcare is no exception.
It is often said that blockchain is “disruptive” to the point where the word loses its power. In the case of the healthcare industry, it has the potential to become the most important innovation aside from the medical research itself.
This article is going to describe the basics of blockchain technology, how it can work within the healthcare industry and the 5 major changes coming in the future that will likely affect everyone.
- 1 Why Blockchain in Healthcare?
- 2 Blockchain Basics Explained
- 3 How Blockchain technology can transform the healthcare sector?
- 4 1. Creation of a standard patient identifier
- 5 2. Blockchain for Prevention of Insurance Fraud
- 6 3. Prevention of Counterfeit Drugs
- 7 4. Data Quality of Clinical Trials
- 8 5. Tracking Medical Credentials
- 9 This is just the beginning
Why Blockchain in Healthcare?
Healthcare innovation and industry roadblocks
Humans used to die in large numbers due to highly-contagious diseases, lack of sanitation and untested/unsafe healthcare practices due to a lack of regulations.
The average human life expectancy in modern times has increased dramatically due to medical innovations like advanced surgery techniques, pharmaceuticals, vaccines & sanitation practices.
Having said that, the exponential innovation within the industry has led to these remarkable outcomes while at the same time basic operations concerning patient information, record-keeping, and administration are still operating with outdated bureaucratic standards and creating lags in industry innovation.
The emergence of blockchain in healthcare is now opening up many possibilities for the administrative sector of the industry to move forward and match its scientific advances. Such improvements offer the potential to streamline industry operations, enhance cohesion between sectors, and provide higher standards for patient services.
Blockchain Basics Explained
- Blockchain is a decentralized technology. This means that all the data is distributed among many computers, none of which are owned by a single entity.
- All the data is organized into blocks and bound together using cryptography, a method of protecting information and communications.
- The data cannot be changed. Amendments are possible only through the addition of information to the “chain” which provides a traceable record of changes.
- The cryptographic and decentralized nature of the technology ensures it is transparent and secure.
How Blockchain technology can transform the healthcare sector?
The potential for blockchain is truly “disruptive”
Blockchain was initially created as the foundational mechanism for trading value on the internet (cryptocurrency). The result of the discovery of the underlying technology spawned hundreds of use-cases and projects, from sharing music to owning real estate.
While blockchain for healthcare innovation appears to be the answer to several severe problems that have been plaguing the industry for decades. The time for change is right now, and blockchain appears to be the mechanism that can move the sector forward.
“While blockchain technology is not a panacea for data standardization or system integration challenges, it does offer a promising new distributed framework to amplify and support the integration of healthcare information across a range of uses and stakeholders.”
There are dozens of blockchain and healthcare-related projects in the works, but for this introductory article, I will focus on five that will likely affect everyone.
1. Creation of a standard patient identifier
One of the biggest issues in the industry is the lack of a standard patient identification system that can be shared across various sectors.
The lack of such a system has resulted in inoperability and coordination problems with negative consequences for patients, health-care providers, and insurance companies.
“Matching the correct individual to his or her health data is critical to their medical care,” said CBMI Director Shaun Grannis, MD, principal investigator for the grant. “Statistics show that up to one in five patient records are not accurately matched even within the same healthcare system.”
– Shaun Grannis, the Director of Center for Biomedical Informatics
Solutions to this issue have been sought for decades by healthcare sector leaders and government bodies for the sake of better patient care, regulation and industry management.
The consequences can be serious because the results of this disjointed framework have led to serious mistakes in prescribed treatments and increased potential for unfavorable patient outcomes.
Blockchain technology in healthcare today can provide the framework necessary to solve this issue.
The first possible step to a solution involves increased transparency between various sectors of the industry and collaboration between entities. This will likely require an increased willingness to forgo competitive practices in order to share information.
Generally speaking, the competition between sectors has created an environment where healthcare providers block patient information, resulting in the inability to create a unified, cohesive system.
Cooperation within the industry is required in order to create a blockchain-based system that disseminates information about patients using a single ID that can be used system-wide across various sectors.
Because of privacy issues, a permission blockchain system would be ideal in order to restrict access to the ecosystem. Undoubtedly this requires a regulating authority of some type that can evaluate the existing members and approve new ones.
Should all these elements come together, the result could be a network that uses patient-specific IDs that all entities can share. The benefits of this are numerous as the records could contain information about the number of visits, types of practitioners, drug history and past surgeries.
The net result will be an increased understanding of each patient, more effective diagnosis, and better treatment.
2. Blockchain for Prevention of Insurance Fraud
Blockchain in healthcare plays a crucial role to prevent insurance fraud.
A unique patient ID across the entire system opens up many new possibilities for information disclosure across various operations, including fraud prevention.
The fraudulent submission of false claims for the purpose of collecting benefits is a huge issue in the insurance industry.
According to The National HealthCare Anti-Fraud Association, Medicare fraud in the United States amounts to $68 billion a year.
“An excellent collaborative blockchain in healthcare use case is that of fraud detection and prevention. Criminal activity often exploits insurers’ “blind spots,” where fraudulent patterns can only be detected across a wide data set, often across multiple insurers. Legal and competitive challenges have hampered insurers’ attempts to share intelligence on fraudulent activity to date; however, development of a blockchain network could provide a way for competitors to safely and securely share data, gain visibility into criminal patterns, and prevent future losses.”
– Paul Brenchley, KPMG
Connectivity of blockchain for insurance solves problems like this with precision by creating connections between industries that allow sharing of patient data and tracking of any significant changes. The result could be the creation of a paper trail that will ultimately prove useful for the prevention of fraud.
3. Prevention of Counterfeit Drugs
Blockchain application in healthcare is useful for tracking patient care, but its use does not stop there.
Blockchain entries cannot be modified. If changes occur, the new information is added, and the very nature of this system could prove very useful in monitoring pharmaceuticals from creation to delivery.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated ten thousand people die each year from consuming counterfeit drugs.
A blockchain in healthcare solutions involving advanced tracking is a possible way, from the earliest point of production to eventual consumption. This could include any changes or alterations made to the products along the way.
4. Data Quality of Clinical Trials
Questions about the funding of clinical trials have arisen since the passage of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (US) in 1992. That allowed the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to receive funding from pharmaceutical companies.
Since this time the FDA has collected $7.67 billion in user fees from pharmaceutical manufacturers and this trend is expected to increase.
Concerns from patients, physicians, and the general public around the current standards for clinical trial funding have led to growing concerns about conflict of interest and stakeholder concerns.
Blockchain in healthcare offers a solution to this issue based on the transparent nature of the technology that allows data about clinical trials and their funding to be stored in a way that is secure, unfalsifiable and publicly verifiable.
It cannot be changed, and any alterations to the data are visible for all stakeholders in the system.
5. Tracking Medical Credentials
Despite internet connectivity and regulatory bodies, there is no single system that tracks professional credentials for practitioners within the industry.
The consequences of falsified credentials, false identities, and fraudulent advertising have resulted in many individuals becoming victims of dishonest business practices that have had long-term consequences for their health.
A medical blockchain-based system with a unique identifier will enable regulatory bodies and other members of the chain to verify the credentials and track records of various health professionals.
Such a system will provide an unalterable history of a professional’s healthcare career history which will ultimately protect patients, employers, and insurance providers.
This is just the beginning
The healthcare industry continues to evolve in treatments and patient care, while the administration and regulatory practices of the industry have not kept up with that innovation, resulting in inefficiencies, fraud, and corruption.
Blockchain in healthcare offers solutions to many of these problems and there are dozens of projects currently in progress promising to provide solutions to an industry that desperately needs a technological upgrade.
The Blockchain technology in healthcare offers a way to store data in a system that is decentralized, secure, private, and cannot be changed.
This presents a multitude of opportunities for the industry to use this technology to increase cohesion, operability, reduce corruption and, ultimately, to provide better healthcare for everyone.