Today we are living in an era of technological advancement where we are constantly looking for solutions to make lives easier and better. The blockchain technology has been present for years now and millions of people are part of this system. And now this technology has entered the arena of healthcare and is ready to revolutionize it in many ways. Basically, blockchains are digital ledgers of information and they are practically impermeable to breaching. This way, the way data is handled in healthcare will entirely transform. It will eliminate the third-party data handlers and will streamline the data sharing processes.

In fact, in 2018, the health-related blockchain spending was estimated at around $177 million and it is expected to go up to a whopping amount of $5.6 billion by the time we reach 2025. With blockchains, old systems are evolving, leading to increased efficiency and at the same time is also cutting down the costs incurred in the healthcare industry.

Hence, there is no doubt that this technology of blockchains is much potential of transforming the whole healthcare, placing patients at the center of the healthcare ecosystem, and along with that increases privacy, security, and interoperability of the health data. This way, the blockchain technology could totally revamp the model for Health Information Exchanges i.e. HIE, making the electronic medical records way more secure, efficient and disintermediated.

In this blog, we will discuss the impact of blockchains on the healthcare industry and how developing your healthcare system integrated with blockchain technology can enhance efficiency and bring tremendous success to your healthcare business. So, let’s begin by first understanding blockchain, as a concept.

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What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a distributed system that works to record and store the transaction records. Most essentially, it is a shared, immutable record of the peer-to-peer transactions built from the linked transaction blocks & stored in a digital ledger. This technology uses established cryptographic methods to enable each member in the network to store, exchange, & view the information, without the pre-existing trust between parties.

Blockchains system doesn’t consist of any central authority and here the transaction records get stored and distributed across all of the network participants. All the network participants get to know of all the interactions with blockchains and verification is required by the network to add information. This allows for transparent collaboration between the network participants and also records an immutable audit trail of each interaction.

How exactly Blockchains can benefit the healthcare system?

A number of transactions occur daily in a typical hosting setting. Like there is patient registration, therapy results, health indices, payment, account tracking, and costs, everything is constantly monitored. Each of the system participants can be linked with their own electronic ledger with the attributes distinctive from the other participants. Now the existence of these multiple ledgers opens a lot of scope for errors, inefficiency, and fraud. However, with blockchain technology, now each computer shared a copy of all of the ledgers. Thus, information can be easily checked & verified against all the other copies. This also eliminates redundancy and reduces vulnerabilities to a huge extent.

Blockchains work differently than centralized databases, as it instead works over the distributed system. Here, the cryptographic codes get auto-generated for various levels of users, and there is no role of an intermediary. This limits the number of points of exposure as well as access to sensitive data. Also, the paper use cuts down drastically, thus excludes the possibilities of delays and potential losses on the part of stakeholders.

Apart from this, there are endless applications used in healthcare. With blockchain integrated EHR (Electronic Health Records) each of the transaction and entry can be validated against the ledger. This offers higher level security, single unified system, and to patients, it enables them to control their PHI i.e. personal health information.

What statistics have to say about the significance of blockchain in healthcare?

Though blockchain technology has already taken footsteps in healthcare, in coming times we’ll most likely see it completely transform the sector. Its scope in healthcare is huge and a report says that global blockchain development in healthcare, which was valued to be around $34.47 million, will witness a steep rise of $1415.59 million in the year 2024. Also, the CAGR growth is expected to be around 70.45% in between 2018-2024.

There is around 56 percent of the healthcare IT professionals stating that they are expecting their company to implement blockchain technology by the year 2020 that’s next year. This ever same group also believes that the most blockchain benefits would be registered in the clinical trial records, medical health records, and regulatory compliance. However, among these use cases, the main benefit would be in terms of patient data security. Like in the year 2017 itself, there were 477 healthcare breaches affecting 5.6 million patient records. With EHR being shared quite often and it’s being difficult to protect, hence blockchain can prove to be the savior for your healthcare business. 

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Impact of blockchain technology

So, by now you know there are many benefits of blockchain in healthcare, but to know how exactly and what areas it impacts, read below:

Single Data Source: Just as mentioned above, in blockchain, all the transactions are stored & added to it only once it gets the confirmation from the majority of participants. Also, the data recorded on it cannot be changed and this vouches of its authenticity and security. This property can be used by the researchers for studying the massive amount of undisclosed information of a certain group of people. This helps in longitudinal studies that are used for developing precision medicines for effective treatment.

Clinical Trials: Smart contract manages the permissions for the doctors to edit information in the patient’s record. Only the doctors involved in patient’s care will have access to editing, whereas other doctors can still view records. Apart from patient care, it also implies for clinical trials. Forbes reported that in 2017 around 50% clinical trials were not reported, while 90% of the trials on ClinicalTrails.gov had not shown any results. However, with blockchain, these results can be stored and only certain physicians will have permission to edit, while any interested doctor can view the trial information. This presents an easy way for data sharing across the researchers. Any information gained from the trial could be easily stored in the blockchain, hence no need to report anywhere else.

Decentralizes Patient Data: It can be really tricky to share the patient data between doctor’s offices – mainly when a patient requires seeing numerous specialists or when s/he is involved with the numerous private practices. With the use of blockchain, a decentralized system that is centered on the patient and not the data holder forms a shared database of the patient data. There are so many systems that manage the EHRs, all centralized per company

Like, in Boston, its 4.5 million residents need to deal with 26 different systems, where all of them use different languages. Only a blockchain record would be one system, with just one language, and it could also be shared easily across the patient’s numerous healthcare providers. With smart contracts, it is ensured that there is no violation in the HIPAA privacy laws. After all, violating one would mean major fines. However, blockchains are impenetrable, hence all worries regarding healthcare data breaches would be a thing of the past. There are firms like BurstIQ& Health Linkages that are already creating databases for this purpose. As it comes to Health Linkages, it provides the anonymous patient data to the doctors, whereas BurstUQ uses machine learning in order process data.

Telemedicine & Insurance: One way that blockchain can hugely impact healthcare is reducing the healthcare cost. Like, it eliminates the idea of an insurance middleman. This is where ‘Smart Contacts’ come in, these are the contracts that accurately and exactly spells how money, referred to as tokens, is going to be spent. They even permit the doctors to edit the patient data. Hence, everything is transparent and all the rules are very clear, hence there is high-level trust on all the sides.  With smart contracts coming in, they eliminate the requirement to go through the insurance, & telehealth, like instead use Skype to fix an appointment with the doctor instead of physically going to book one. This way, blockchain brings in several new healthcare possibilities.

Like, in the arena of telemedicine, here the process begins as soon as a patient opens a case and sends out the necessary information, like photos via the app to their physician. Once the doctor reviews the information, s/he then sends back a diagnosis & treatment options. In order to make the payments, patients can use either MEDX or ERC20 tokens. This works the same as paying with Bitcoin, and the payment is secure via Ethereum blockchain that supports smart contracts.

Drug Traceability: Tracing drugs would become a lot easier with the time-stamped transaction data that could be only be edited by the one with explicit permission. This cuts down on counterfeiting. After all, when each and every transaction from the manufacturer is recorded, it would get easier to find the drugs went off. This way, someone could be held accountable. In the developing nations, between 10 to 30% of the drugs are fake, and these fake drugs cost the business in the USA $200 billion annually. When a drug manufacturer is given access to the blockchain, it can be tracked where these drugs go. Hence, countrified drugs can be eliminated.

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What are the benefits of blockchain technology in healthcare?

Going by the above discussion on how blockchain impacts several domains of healthcare it is clear that its benefits are endless and below we will be discussing a few of them.

  • Data Monitoring and Access: This technology in healthcare would be useful to store and update essential patient data, such as sugar level and blood pressure in the real-time, using IoT & wearables. This way, the doctors would be able to monitor the patients, who are prone to risk 24×7 and they could inform their family and relatives in case of an emergency.
  • Lower Transaction costs: By enabling peer-to-peer transactions, Blockchain has entirely eliminated third-parties & even the banks. This leads to reduced transaction costs.
  • Security: There is no centralized database in blockchain as here all the data is stored across all of the systems. This makes it all the more secure and hack-proof.
  • Immutability: Data written in blockchain can’t be changed by any participant once it has been entered. Not even the system admin or third-parties, absolutely no one. This helps people in proving that their data is genuine & unaltered.
  • Transparency: With Blockchain, transparency is ensured at all levels, as here each transaction is recorded & verified publicly.
  • Manage Payments: With blockchains, customized care plans for the patient could be implemented in a better manner, enabling tracking of appointments & health indicators.
  • Manage Permissions: When patient consent forms are maintained on paper, they leave a room for tampering. However, with new interpretations of the privacy regulations, it is now crucial to record consent for data sharing. It is done by informing the patients via permanent records and here Blockchain proves to be really helpful.
  • Data Integrity & Interoperability: No matter where the medical records are generated, they could be added to blockchain providing complete proof of advice & patient indices as this data can’t be changed. Now this aspect is mainly crucial for the clinical trials & medico-legal cases where it is vital to ensure the integrity and interoperability of data.
  • Cost-effective: In the blockchain, there is no involvement of any third-party or mediator systems. As it doesn’t need them to fetch and transfer data. With no involvement of these systems, it results in lesser costs.

Limitations

There are certain limitations that need to be considered before adopting this technology in healthcare. Firstly, blockchain is yet to be tested against the large data sets. The technology doesn’t make itself automatically acquiescent to data analytics, which is precisely required for data stored into the healthcare intelligence systems. Also, transactions processing is slow. However, despite these limitations, when we look at its characteristics, nothing matches the advantages offered by this technology.

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How blockchain changes the business models?

This technology has the potential to create new business models when it is integrated with healthcare operations. Here are some of the examples:

Pharmacies: Blockchain could provide great help in pharmacies in handling their work with all data being available to them. With the help of this data, pharmacies could guide patients on how they require to take the medicine.

Pharma companies: With the help of Blockchain platforms, pharma companies would be able to collect the data in real-time. This will enable them to offer a range of medical products & treatments customized specifically for patients.

Healthcare professionals: Whether it is doctors or nurses, these healthcare professionals would be able to easily access patient’s data at all times and track and guide them accordingly. After all, the wearables technology allow the doctors to track patient’s health and current stage in real-time.

Successful Blockchain Projects in Healthcare

Blockchain has already entered in the arena of healthcare and among the many healthcare startups that adopted this technology, few are:

Robomed Network: This medical network based on blockchain facilitates in providing most effective medical care. Using Smart Contracts, it connects patients and healthcare service providers. It can be pivotal in boosting the shift of healthcare to value-based care, where patients would pay for results and not for procedures. Robomed is already having 9000 patients and 30500 services.

ConnectingCare: This platform using blockchain is for healthcare providers from different clinical organizations. It allows them to access the same data for shared patients. This is a highly credible project and can work wonders for the healthcare industry.

MediLedger: This firm is using blockchain in order to strengthen track-and-trace capabilities for prescription medicine. It allows its users to create an interoperable system to identify & track specific prescription drugs. Thus, it meets the law & operational requirements of the healthcare industry.

MedRec: Using blockchain, it saves the digital family history of the medical records.

As it comes to the use of technology in the arena of healthcare, we can say a lot of good things are surely in store. Blockchain would be contributing in a big way along with IoT& machine learning and will revolutionise healthcare. And this not just includes pharmaceuticals but even hospitals & healthcare institutions, which can really benefit from these technological advancements.

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