For a long period of time, the terms ‘blockchain’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ were used interchangeably, particularly in relation to Bitcoin. However, this view is too limited, as it fails to recognise the full potential of the decentralised ledger technology. Fortunately, the appreciation of blockchain technology is growing, and decision-makers in a variety of industries are beginning to understand the wider implications of this revolutionary technology.
Blockchain is an impressive system with applications outside the financial sector. Whilst financial transactions are an integral part of blockchain technology, it is important to note that they do not have to be exclusively monetary. The use of cryptographic encryption means that data of any kind can be securely and privately transferred, in a manner that is visible to all relevant parties. Already, the technology is being employed in a variety of sectors, including industry, media and advertising.
Despite the fact that blockchain technology has not seen widespread use in the healthcare industry thus far, it has the potential to be a major asset for healthcare providers. In particular, blockchain could be a great help in managing patient data and administering research data, both of which require the secure handling of sensitive information. By using the distributed ledger capabilities of blockchain, healthcare providers could improve the security of the communication and storage of patient data, as well as ensure the accuracy of research data. This could be achieved through the use of secure, immutable records that can be accessed by authorised personnel only. Additionally, blockchain’s decentralised nature would allow healthcare providers to access and share data more quickly and efficiently.
Health Care Use Cases for Blockchain
It is clear that blockchain technology has the capacity to revolutionise the healthcare system, providing a secure and reliable method of payment for medical services. However, its potential extends far beyond this. Blockchain has the capacity to be used in a vast range of contexts, such as:
Launching a Worldwide Health Information System
In recent years, it has become increasingly common for consumers to maintain loyalty with their primary care physician or clinic, often due to the existing medical records associated with their account. To ensure they are receiving the best possible care, it is essential that any new doctor or clinic be provided with access to these records. Technology is already being used to facilitate this process, but the introduction of blockchain could significantly enhance the efficiency of the system.
By creating an interconnected network of medical records from all around the globe, physicians would have instantaneous access to their patients’ medical history. The most impressive aspect of this network is that it has the potential to be utilised in every corner of the world. This means that any doctor or healthcare facility could access a patient’s records, which would be very beneficial in the event of a medical emergency while travelling abroad.
All patient information will be kept secure and only available to authorised medical professionals across the world, thanks to the key feature of blockchain technology – its records are unalterable and inaccessible without the correct security keys.
Enhanced Pharmaceutical Investigation
There is a great potential for blockchain technology to revolutionise the process of developing pharmaceuticals. By creating a secure, academic network, which allows participants from around the globe to share information on new tests and discoveries, collaboration between research teams can be significantly enhanced. This could lead to a significant improvement in the development of new pharmaceuticals, increasing their efficacy and availability to those who need them.
It is clear that the current global pandemic has encouraged several organisations and companies from across the world to strive for the development of a vaccine. By utilising blockchain technology, the sharing of important information between these parties could become simpler, thus resulting in a potentially faster development of a vaccine, and ultimately, saving lives. It is therefore important to consider the implications of such a resource in this context.
Furthermore, blockchain technology can be utilised to provide evidence of existence, document authentication and protection against intellectual property theft. This is due to the fact that any data that is exchanged within the blockchain can be effectively tracked back to its rightful owner.
Medication Tracking Made Easier
It is difficult to estimate the full extent of drug counterfeiting due to its illegal nature, however it is a significant problem worldwide, particularly in countries with weaker law enforcement. The World Health Organization reports that in some underdeveloped nations, one in every ten medical items is either substandard or a counterfeit.
It is clear that the presence of substandard and counterfeit medicines poses an immense risk to public health, with potentially fatal consequences. While blockchain technology may not provide a complete solution to this issue, it could help to reduce it by leveraging its in-built authentication and traceability capabilities to verify the legitimacy of all pharmaceuticals in circulation.
Due to the complexity of medical supplies and the difficulty in monitoring their distribution chain, it is beyond the capacity of the manufacturer to guarantee their legitimacy. However, patients can take comfort from the fact that they can verify the legitimacy of the medications they wish to purchase by entering a number on the appropriate website.
Addition of AI
Theoretically, the potential benefits that blockchain technology can have for the healthcare sector could be amplified through integration with other forward-thinking technological advances. Prominent investor Tim Draper believes that blockchain technology and artificial intelligence could be used together to create a powerful medical platform with a variety of applications.
The implementation of artificial intelligence algorithms could provide a comprehensive overview of the blockchain, allowing them to analyse and audit all of the data it contains. This could be beneficial in terms of monitoring a patient’s medical history, in addition to their blood work and genetic data, to identify any potential warning signs. This could have a positive effect on the effectiveness of medical treatments, possibly even leading to the preservation of lives.
A Future Union in the Making
Despite healthcare being one of the most digitally advanced sectors, the potential of blockchain technology has yet to be fully exploited. Whilst there are a number of applications that make use of the blockchain, and proposals to extend its usage within the healthcare industry, the sector is taking a cautious approach when considering its potential applications.
It is evident that there are a number of aspects to consider when looking at the adoption of blockchain technology within the healthcare sector. Firstly, the technology itself is still in its early stages of development and is subject to continual evolution. Moreover, the lack of a comprehensive regulatory framework is an issue that must be addressed in order for the technology to be used on a wider scale. This is particularly pertinent in the healthcare sector, as it involves a variety of stakeholders who must comply with regulations. It is therefore essential that a robust regulatory framework is in place before a widespread adoption of blockchain technology can be achieved.
Despite the lack of tangible evidence to support the notion that blockchain technology could be beneficial to the healthcare industry, we should not neglect the potential opportunities that may arise from further exploration. It is possible that blockchain could become more widely used and move out of its current position as a niche technology within the cryptocurrency market. Alternatively, blockchain could provide healthcare professionals with the tools to improve the quality and efficiency of their services, ultimately saving more lives.