Blockchain technology has become an enormous trend across all industries, and not only because of its application for decentralized finance and apps. The nature of blockchain tech means that many business processes can be carried out securely, with transparency and data protection at its core, which is why the healthcare industry is edging towards integrating blockchain within its services. This shift comes on the back of rising healthcare costs, constant data breaches, and increased awareness within society about how data is being used by corporations. Throughout this article, we will discuss the relationship that blockchain has with the healthcare industry.
What is Blockchain Technology?
Blockchain tech refers to an infrastructure of computers that share a database, which records transactions securely. In this case, a transaction is simply a change within the chain, which accounts for a new block. The blocks in the chain are strung together by hashes (cryptographic keys), which are stored within the ledger and linked by a series of nodes. Every node within the chain contains a copy of the ledger, and when changes are made, they’re all updated simultaneously.
The nature of blockchain means that it’s difficult to tamper with, which makes it difficult for hackers to gain access. When a transaction is made, it sits in the chain forever and can’t be altered. As well as being called blockchain, you may see it referred to as digital ledger technology (DLT).
Blockchain tech can be used in healthcare to deliver a greater level of service to users, while reducing friction between different areas of the industry. The benefits of blockchain tech include unchangeable record-keeping, decentralized management, data availability to any authorized user, traceability, and data provenance. On top of this, information is kept clear of cybercriminals through deep levels of encryption.
Unfortunately, blockchain is still theoretically in its teething stages, which means there are a series of negative factors to consider. For example, despite the high levels of encryption, blockchain is still susceptible to breaches including bugs and zero-day attacks. Secondly, not all activities within a healthcare environment can be linked to a transaction, and not all transactions are for public viewing, which can lead to breaches of sensitive data if not formatted properly.
When the healthcare industry works to adopt blockchain tech, extensive measures need to be taken to ensure that blockchain security is a constant priority. Further, blockchain infrastructures need to be created carefully to ensure that private company data doesn’t cross over into the public eye.
Applying for positions within the healthcare industry is lengthy, and can become tiring, especially when you need to evidence your experience and training with every application. Fortunately, with blockchain tech, a central platform can be created that holds information about a nurse’s career, which will make the application smoother for employers and employees.
In practice, this means that if someone completes a PhD in nursing from Wilkes University, they would be able to add this evidence to an online platform, which is built using blockchain tech. Then, when they apply for nursing positions, the recruiters would easily be able to view their information without the need to send in certifications, etc. As well as evidence of training, an entire overview of a healthcare worker’s career can be uploaded onto a blockchain system. When a person wants to remove their data, they can do so at any time, and there’s no way for it to be recovered.
One of the challenges of blockchain tech is interoperability, which is currently being addressed by leaders in the space, including Polkadot. With blockchain innovations, it would be possible to create a single system with different branches coming off it, which can be used for storing medical records. For example, on the basic level, a patient’s genetic information would be accessible by all authorized parties. Underneath the top layer of the blockchain, further data and images can be stored pertaining to different departments. For instance, radiology would have a separate key and be able to see tailored details relevant to them.
Arranging data like this will help protect patients by concealing certain information to regular level users, which don’t need to see intricate details. As well as sharing only relevant details with the blockchain, the end-user will have access to all information held and can remove the information of their own free will.
When there’s a disease outbreak, it’s essential for health organizations to track its movements, which helps to inform a global response. Blockchain tech lends itself perfectly to monitoring diseases in real-time. The origin of the disease can never be disputed, and the changes in state can be analyzed by all members of the chain, which would include healthcare leaders. Having this information updated across a central blockchain database means that preventative research can be uploaded and shared, which will speed up disease control.
The American healthcare industry relies on insurance to operate efficiently. However, many people attempt to defraud the system by putting in bogus claims, which need to be investigated. During investigations, they will talk to healthcare providers and patients to find out exactly what treatments have been carried out – all it takes is a communication lapse and the fraudulent claim can sneak through successfully.
Fortunately, the nature of blockchain technology is perfect for tracking medical treatments. Every time a treatment is made, it’s recorded into the blockchain database, and can be viewed by authorized bodies. Seeing all medical “transactions” makes it difficult for patients to add fraudulent information to their medical insurance claims.
Mobile health apps have been available for some time now, but their mass adoption only started during the global pandemic, which forced healthcare providers to operate remotely when they can. The technology has many practical implications and can help save lives, especially when it comes to caring for the elderly. However, if data records are stored on a blockchain and linked to personal devices at home including mobile monitoring devices, it opens up the door for hackers to carry out root exploits, which can reveal private keys.
One of the most prevalent downfalls of the technological age lies with cybercriminals, who are constantly evolving to attack companies and personal data. Unfortunately, almost 200 million data breaches have taken place between 2009 and 2017, and that’s just within the healthcare industry. Thankfully, the security features that come with blockchain technology can help to protect data and lower breaches.
If a hacker wanted to access information on a secure blockchain, they’d need to target each user to find out their keys. Although this can be done, it’s not worth the effort needed. However, this won’t eliminate threats because cybercriminals will simply get smarter.
Carrying out research is essential in the medical industry, but it’s often limited by a lack of access to patient information. Theoretically, this can be solved by using blockchain alongside the existing electronic medical records system, which at the moment is centralized and updated constantly across shared healthcare providers. If patient data can be arranged in a way that puts non-protected health information (PHI) on the highest level of the blockchain, researchers could access the information they need without breaching data protection laws.
The implication of having access to such huge amounts of data would be astronomical and can speed up medical advancements. Given the nature of blockchain, researchers can collaborate with whoever they need to with no regard to gaining permission to use the data, which opens up the research world even further.
In its current state, healthcare records are kept on a central database and rely on communication between medical providers, which can often cause friction for patients. Unfortunately, when there’s friction, there are often unnecessary costs ranging from negligence lawsuits to additional testing.
By using blockchain technology, one central database can be created to store patient health records. The blockchain will be updated constantly and simultaneously across all authorized users, which means retrieving data will be rapid and there’s less margin for communicative errors between providers. The outcome of such a system will be faster diagnosis and personalized care tailored to individual patients.
Medical supplies need to come from reputable manufacturers, and evidence of their trail should be available. Tracking ledgers can be set up using blockchain, with each step of a product’s supply chain journey updated in real-time, which means manufacturers won’t be able to lie to healthcare providers.
Issues with healthcare supply chain transparency were highlighted recently when the Covid-19 vaccination was discovered. Counterfeiters jumped onto the opportunity to create fakes and sell their products to clinics. A tracking ledger using blockchain would eliminate this problem because it would be easy for healthcare providers to check on the journey of the medical supplies they source.
Blockchain is still in the teething stages when it comes to healthcare apps, but there are already innovative tech companies changing the industry – continue reading for our top picks.
BurstIQ is a platform dedicated to healthcare companies, which lets them store patient data securely. As well as being secure, and offering options for data licensing, this tool complies with HIPPA. In the real world, this application updates patient records in real-time and can be used to reduce the number of prescription drug and opioid cases.
MedicalChain is a blockchain tool that uses blockchain to strengthen the integrity of health records. Authorized people on the chain can access records, which creates a point of entry and helps to keep data safe. Back in 2018, MedicalChain released a blockchain website called “MyClinic.com”, which let people connect with doctors via video link, which they paid for using their native coin “MedToken”.
Akiri is in the industry of Big Data and uses its blockchain platform for healthcare providers, and acts as a network-as-a-service. Instead of storing data on their system, they protect patient data during transportation, which keeps unwanted visitors at the gates. The Akiri network only lets authorized users access the network, which means data is completely sealed for outsiders.
Factom supports the healthcare industry by creating innovative products that store digital records. Physical real-world documents can be equipped with specialist chips that carry information, and these chips can only be read by authorized personnel. Outside of the medical world, they’ve been commissioned by the US government to develop an infrastructure for integrating blockchain tech with border control cameras.
Guardtime is working alongside healthcare professionals to improve cybersecurity, by integrating elements of blockchain. They’ve been making waves in the world and have signed deals with UAE healthcare providers, and were responsible for securing the Estonian healthcare infrastructure. Further, Guardtime has teamed up with Verizon to deploy their Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI).
Robomed brings blockchain and AI together and offers a single entry point for patient care. They create and deliver telemedicine tools, and wearable tech, and then share the information gathered with care providers. Blockchain is used to keep information private during transmission to healthcare providers and offers transparency to patients.
Chronicled works hard to build blockchain networks that track the supply chain of medical equipment and treatments. In 2017, they released the Mediledger Project, which demonstrated that blockchain can be used effectively as a way to accurately track the supply chain. Providers of blockchain networks like this will help meet the data requirements of the wider pharmaceutical industry.
Tierion is a blockchain that creates a transparent history of ownership for medicines, records, and documents. Using credentials and timestamps, Tierion lets the supply chain become completely traceable. In the real world, this tech firm proposed a solution that can make Bitcoin more practical, by using a multi-network coin.
Blockchain is still in the teething stages but has already begun changing the healthcare industry for the better. Patient data can be kept secure, medical supplies can be tracked in real-time, and healthcare workers and access blockchain apps to upload their credentials securely. Over the next decade, blockchain will become the industry standard for healthcare and within wider industries.