The global healthcare system is under extreme stress and has been deteriorating for what feels like decades. Bed shortages, long waiting lists, and increasing costs, alongside the global pandemic, are a few of the challenges that have brought the industry to a breaking point. Amid this is the struggle to balance patients’ medical privacy with ease of access to medical history via electronic health records (EHRs). Blockchain technology is set to improve medical record security.
Blockchain-based electronic-based systems (EHRs) would allow healthcare providers to control the flow of information from a single, standard platform. It puts all forms of health monitoring into a single, trusted platform accessible to health professionals, organizes the operation, and enables better oversight of the quality of care being given. When records are backed up with blockchain, once data is inputted everyone involved sees it immediately, and it cannot be altered in any way.
However, there are concerns about having this level of access to highly personal information on a public network and what this could mean for patient privacy. Fortunately, certain blockchain allows patients to choose the part of their personal information they wish to share and who can have access to them. This patient-centric concept allows for medical records to be owned by the patient, rather than the healthcare provider, and this is much needed, especially at this moment when patient privacy is threatened.
When patients have the ultimate decision-making power, they can decide who has access to their medical history, what part of it they have access to, and for how long they can access it. This data access limit by the patient improves medical record security by preventing a potential hacker from obtaining any significant volume of valuable information.
While many people associate Blockchain with cryptocurrency, the technology has proven itself not to be limited to supporting digital currencies. It has shown great potential and is now being widely adopted across sectors.
Currently, there are several identified areas in which blockchain can offer significant transformation to the medical industry, including management of electronic medical record (EMR) data, healthcare data protection, personal health record data management, point-of-care genomics management, electronic health records data management, and Health Information Exchanges (HIEs). This is possible because a blockchain system utilizes a decentralized, immutable ledger to store data in a way that’s constantly verified and re-verified by every party that uses it, rendering the information almost unalterable. It is a database for recording information and cryptographically enforcing them to ensure the integrity of the data and produce a time-stamped and immutable, single version of the truth.
Data is key to every aspect of medicine— both in terms of practice and research. However, the industry has been facing tremendous difficulties in managing loads of information. According to Jonas Lundqvist, CEO at Haidrun, more than 200 million patient records have been exposed to data breaches in the past decades. This is expected, considering the sheer volume of paper in health administration. Deloitte reported that a single healthcare provider files about 20,000 forms annually. Over 50% of the healthcare transactions performed yearly are via fax, with a significant part of them arriving late – some may never arrive or contain insufficient or incorrect detail.
Although the most notable are the major high-profile breaches of sensitive patient data, the problem extends to the compromise of pharmaceutical research, financial details, genetic information, and cyber-attacks on the healthcare supply chain. To mitigate this, tech companies are stepping in as the gatekeepers of information, proposing several solutions. Of all these, blockchain is emerging as the technology with the best potential to address most of the root causes of and associate risks.
There are several blockchain healthcare companies currently working, including Akiri, BurstIQ, Factom, Chronicled, Embleema, RoboMed, Curisium, and many others. Another example is MediLedger, a US-based blockchain healthcare company, which provides an atmosphere in which companies across the prescription drug supply chain can verify the authenticity of medicines, expiry dates, and other crucial information.
Although blockchain applications in healthcare are at an early stage, it has great potential to transform the management and protection of healthcare information.
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