Addressing health equity challenges with digital innovation
In recent years, the healthcare system has witnessed a sharp rise in healthcare demand which created a drive towards transformation and urgency to focus on innovation. At the center of this change is the exigency to capture, store, analyze, and deploy the information that is increasingly flowing in to improve medical product design, and therefore the health of patients. Data is key to every aspect of medicine— the practice and research— and blockchain technology has provided transforming possibilities to deal with loads of information in healthcare.
Blockchain is a system or data structure that stores records in a transparent, secure, and decentralized manner. It is described as a digital ledger technology or a spreadsheet duplicated thousands of times and stored in a distributed network across multiple locations in order to manage electronic data transparency and accountability; that is, when one device on a blockchain technology performs a transaction, all other devices generate identical blocks reflecting this action. Likewise, when blockchain data is manipulated in any way, a block is created to record this information so that any alteration can be easily verified and tracked back to its source.
Blockchain’s ubiquity is becoming evident with time. Initially, people think of cryptocurrency when the topic of blockchain comes up; however, blockchain has proven itself not to be limited to supporting digital currencies. They are now being deployed in multiple sectors, the medical industry included.
The principle on which Blockchain technology functions is very straightforward and constantly evolving, increasing the network of blocks that adapt to the industries’ needs and specific characteristics. Alongside being a catalyst for utmost accountability, its accurate, secure, and tamper-resistant nature makes it seemingly impossible to mimic, falsify or manipulate data. Blockchain has unlimited benefits in the medical industry, bringing improvements to different healthcare actors:
Blockchain speeds up medical credentialing and transforms patient medical records into a decentralized system that can’t be tampered with. It also allows doctors from different locations to view the same data in real-time, thereby improving decision-making.
Blockchain empowers patients to assume ownership of their medical data and prohibits healthcare providers from accessing information without patient permission. Through the use of blockchain, patients can participate in research and monetize their data without intermediaries.
It helps to recruit participants for clinical trials, supports reliable and auditable documentation of clinical trials with its immutable records, and allows spotting counterfeit drugs.
Although there are many identified benefits, there are of course some disadvantages to the adoption of blockchain in the medical industry.
The network creates more blocks that reflect the invalidation of existing records, making it impossible to permanently delete records. As the number of blocks increases, there are delays due to the increase in transaction time.
Also, for this technology to function, all involved organizations need to be on board with it. The technology requires high planning and maintenance costs.
In the real sense, there are more uses of blockchain in healthcare than can be mentioned. However, these are some:
Easy data exchange among providers of medical solutions can contribute to diagnostic precision, productive therapies, and cost-effective ecosystems in the medical industry. Blockchain enables various health organizations to connect and exchange information on a commonly distributed ledger for better safety and transparency while still maintaining integrity and confidentiality.
In most cases, patients’ data exist in silos that aren’t connected. For instance, your primary care physician has access to some of your medical data but not to data that specialists such as a pulmonologist, general surgeon, or obstetrician can access and vice versa. This slows down treatment and impedes the management of a patient. Blockchain technology could solve this problem by making available a blockchain-based application that enables connecting to existing medical record (EMR) systems at different healthcare providers. Whenever a piece of new information is put up into any of the EMRs, the blockchain receives encrypted data about the information. This unifies all details and provides the patient and health providers with historical access, thereby making it easy and possible for healthcare providers to get a view of the patient’s health status at any point in time.
Having said this, it’s important to add that, Blockchain enables a transparent, auditable means for individuals, using their peculiar credentials and encryption key, to allow other parties to access their personal health data. This includes granting health professionals, service providers, and other relevant actors access to their medical records and other information for direct health care delivery or to permit statistical, research, or other secondary uses of their data. This means that no one can access your data without your consent.
Blockchain will strengthen trust in clinical trials by addressing the problems of false results and data disintegration that do not match the purposes and objectives of the research. It will provide more clarity and identification of false content, thereby bringing credibility to clinical trials.
Provided that it is properly used, blockchain provides better protection than ever for sensitive data. It will display information about the origins of the medication to ensure high quality and that the approved medicine’s manufacturer supplies it.
Blockchain can also be used in patient monitoring, storage of information of an individual patient, analyzing the effects of a particular procedure, validation of transactions, creating research initiatives, maintaining financial statements in hospitals, and minimizing data transformation time and cost.
Being a new concept, a few challenges have been plaguing the adoption and uses of blockchain in the medical industry, including the fear of litigation and the perception of blockchain as new technology.
Some healthcare organizations are concerned about the scalability of blockchain, with the fear that blockchain systems won’t be able to scale as needed to support their needs.
There are several blockchain healthcare companies currently working including Akiri, BurstIQ, Factom, Chronicled, Embleema, RoboMed, Curisium, and many others. Please note that we aren’t making advertisements for any of them.
Although the use of blockchain in healthcare remains in its early stages, the potential opportunities are so significant that it seems likely that blockchains will be increasingly used in the medical industry in the years to come.
It is now estimated that the global digital health market will increase to around $640 billion by 2026. Through our expertise coupled with optimized networking, we will ensure that both investors and startups are on the ground floor of this health revolution. The event which is organized and curated alongside a team of doctors, attracts legislators and policymakers, medical professionals, and investors from across the world, addresses the opportunities and challenges driving this million-dollar forum.
Royal College of Surgeons and the National College of Art and Design partner to develop a silicone heart model