Healthcare is a data-intensive industry. From drug supply chains to health records, everything is presently managed through the traditional computer and paperwork system. There lacks parity between the parties involved in the data management system, which not only makes the process time consuming but also costly and unreliable.
What is Blockchain in Healthcare?
Blockchain in healthcare improves overall security of patients’ electronic medical records, resolves the issues of drugs authenticity and drugs supply chain traceability, and enables secure interoperability between healthcare organizations.
With illustrations for the healthcare data management and medical research, and drug counterfeiting in pharmaceuticals, this article aims to showcase possible influences and potentials connected to application of the groundbreaking blockchain technology in the healthcare sector.
Blockchain adoption in Healthcare
While the adoption of blockchain in healthcare has been comparatively slow all these years, a major paradigm shift is en route. According to a report from IDC, 1 in every 5 medical and healthcare organizations will start using blockchain for information management and patient identity purposes by 2020. By 2025, 55 percent of all healthcare applications will have deployed blockchain for commercial purposes. And by the same year, the valuation of blockchain in healthcare will jump to $5.61 billion from the present $170 million, BIS Research suggests.
The data is intriguing, and the excitement to understand what changes blockchain could bring to the healthcare industry is quite obvious. But before that, it is important to understand the reasons why the healthcare industry needs to implement blockchain technology.
Problems with Today’s Healthcare System
It is the urgent need to improve the interoperability and security of today’s electronic health record management system and drug supply chain that requires blockchain-based solutions.
Every year, the healthcare industry carries out approximately 30 billion healthcare transactions, of which, 50% are faxes. These cost the industry a whopping $250 billion. And despite the high costs, 63% of physicians do not receive the data on time or receive inadequate information through referral letters.
400,000 deaths are recorded each year due to administrative mistakes, and 80% of these are due to miscommunication of patient-related data. Another issue with today’s system is manual documentation. Researchers predict that each provider fills almost 20,000 forms per year with an average cost of $20 for every documentation.
Apart from the health record management system, the lack of a reliable and transparent supply chain management system results in a massive loss for the industry. As a result of inefficient supply chains, the inclusion and sale of counterfeit pharmaceutical products is quite common in the industry. This alone results in the loss of over $200 billion per year for the healthcare industry in the U.S.
All these combined make up for a substantial loss of money as well as life. And it so happens that blockchain can solve these problems quite efficiently and minimize the loss while making data interoperable and providing doctors with real-time access to it.
Blockchain Solutions for Healthcare
Supply Chain in Pharma Industry
Not just the drug supply chain, but the supply chain as a whole is benefitting enormously from blockchain technology. Counterfeit products are a problem everywhere, especially so in the food and medical chain.
The implementation of blockchain to replace the traditional supply chain management system is the only way to counter this situation and prevent counterfeit drug producers to get their products into the market.
Drugs Authenticity and Traceability
Transparency and security are the two properties of blockchain that will play a primary role in this sector. Any pharmaceutical company willing to register their products on the blockchain will have to be trustworthy, which will be decided by those controlling the private healthcare blockchain.Once given the authority to register their drugs on a blockchain, they can then store all data about the drugs on the blockchain. Every block of data on the blockchain, by nature, will be time stamped and unalterable. Hence no entity involved in between the transaction of drugs from the company to the retailer would be able to tamper with the data to include counterfeit drugs. Also, the movement of drugs from one party to the other can be tracked in real-time through the data stored on the blockchain.
QR codes with the access to the data about the drug manufacturers can be used on the cover of drugs to help customers authenticate the products. This will easily help save customers from buying fake products.
Blockchain for Health Record Management
Despite how important a patient’s medical data is, there is no efficient system that currently keeps a record of all data in one place. And if there is, different organizations have different systems that poorly lack interoperability, which renders them useless to an extent.
A blockchain for healthcare record management can align the data mess in the healthcare industry. Irrespective of the medical centers and organizations patients visit through their lifetime, blockchains will enable the storage of all data in a single place. And the patients themselves will control and monitor all their data.
Interoperability of the blockchain system would mean that doctors can easily access a patient’s accurate medical history to better identify their health conditions and formulate a better and more specific operation process.
Blockchain would also ensure unparalleled security for patient’s data if used as an EHR system. The data can neither be altered nor be infected by a ransom to gain control over it and use it illicitly.
Moreover, patients will be in control of the parties they share their record with, and whether or not they want to reveal their identity while doing so. They can also get remuneration for sharing their health data with healthcare organizations for research and development purposes.
Challenges with Blockchain Application in Healthcare
In theory, blockchains are the quintessential solution for two of the biggest problems faced by the healthcare industry today. However, in practice, things are tougher than they seem to be.
While privacy was one problem for blockchain some years ago, the solution has been found with the development of private and permissioned blockchains.
But despite being quite advanced, blockchains still lack the capability to hold a large amount of data in its blocks. One Ethereum block is said to be capable of holding approximately 750kB of data. The same for Bitcoin is close to 1MB, however, the largest block ever mined on Bitcoin blockchain size to 2MB.
With the excessive amount of data that medical organizations produce day in and day out, it is important that blockchains are able to store larger amounts of data more efficiently to disrupt the healthcare industry.
While there are alternate solutions to store a large amount of data safely on the blockchain, none are direct and make the process complicated. There is fast-paced innovation going on in the industry and innovators are trying best to resolve the data storage issue of blockchains.
The solutions that blockchain can offer to the healthcare industry are very promising.
Medical science has shown commendable growth in recent times with high class medical solutions. It is now time that medical technology too grows to that level and synchronize every aspect of the industry into one secure place — the blockchain. And at this speed, it is not long before blockchains are an integral part of the industry’s data management and supply chain systems.