Blockchain’s Emerging Healthcare Applications
by Andy Gaudette, Jan. 29, 2018
While bitcoin and cryptocurrencies seem to go in and out of fashion on a monthly basis, the blockchain—the distributed system used by digital currencies to track transactions—continues to grow in popularity and function as other industries discover its long-range value.
In the past year, healthcare organizations have identified a key application for blockchain technologies—providing a means for individuals to control their personal health information and securely share select data with their healthcare providers. With this application, the blockchain would solve the interoperability challenges currently faced by the healthcare industry as data from a multitude of sources, such as physicians, labs, pharmacies and more. That data would be recorded as a “link” in the blockchain and enable patients to share these links easily and securely.
Imagine a world where fax machines are no longer needed to send protected data, and where patients can better understand and control all elements of their health records. The promise of better care resulting from more accurate and efficient information has healthcare and technology professionals now exploring more applications for this exciting technology. Here are just a few designs in the works:
Pharmaceutical Supply Chains.
Counterfeit drugs are a huge global problem. The World Health Organization notes that while “1 in 10 medical products in low and middle income countries are falsified,” all countries, rich and poor alike, have a growing problem with counterfeit drugs. These drugs include vaccines, antipsychotics, diagnostic kits, and more. Failure of these false drugs can lead to illness, injury, and even death. Using the blockchain to manage pharmaceutical supplies would provide a chain of custody, accurately recording all transactions and transfers of drugs and medical supplies as they move from manufacturer to patient. The chain of custody can provide assurance of authenticity prior to patient distribution.
Data sharing and personal privacy concerns are a major challenge for getting patients to engage in clinical trials. Blockchain technologies enable researchers to access decentralized, trusted data without compromising patient privacy through the use of Smart Contracts. Smart Contracts are agreements that state the conditions or rules of the contract and can be executed automatically within the blockchain. Conditions of the contract may include the specific elements of healthcare and demographic data that can be shared with researchers, while all other data in a patient’s record would remain inaccessible.
Blockchains also help with the accuracy of data in clinical trials. Data in blockchains is immutable, meaning that no one can tamper with it once it has been recorded in the blockchain ledger. This immutability makes the data highly trustworthy, lending increased credible to the clinical trial.
These are just a few of the healthcare applications on the horizon for blockchain technology. Healthcare organizations are looking at every relevant sector from electronic health records, to claims databases, to medical research to finding ways to reduce costs, improve outcomes, and protect patients and their data.
What blockchain applications are you most excited about?
Andy Gaudette is Senior Vice President at HMS. As a software architect and solution engineer, he is passionate about finding ways to help consumers improve their own healthcare.