Four areas of blockchain applications in healthcare.
Storage of medical records on a secure and protected blockchain network is one of the most obvious ways of using blockchain technology in the medical field. Each patient could have a profile and each profile could have an immutable history with timestamps and records. According to a report by IBM, effective sharing of medical data across various organizations in the field could save hospitals over $15 billion a year and this is just in the United States.
In the medical industry, just like in many other industries, there are a lot of varying conflicting regulations and legal requirements about patient records and patient confidentiality.
One of the benefits of blockchain technology when it comes to patient records is that it does not have to replace existing records systems right away. It could exist and be introduced simultaneously to the existing systems and replace them eventually. A blockchain doesn’t even have to store records. It would be a place where organizations make notes about existence of records. Initially, the records themselves could exist “off chain,” but a blockchain could still be a way for organizations to agree on a single version of truth when it comes to the records.
Estonia is one of the world’s countries that has been implementing blockchain technology very aggressively on the national level. The country is already storing all the medical records online and is planning to switch them to blockchains and make them available in real time to both patients and healthcare providers. This being said, the project can take considerable time to implement because of the privacy, security and legal issues and concerns.
Collection of data from medical devices
Today we live in the world where various devices, including refrigerators, lamps, and smart home speakers can connect to the Internet, order food, diapers, call for a taxi, and so on.
Similarly, in health care there are devices such as blood pressure monitors, blood sugar monitors, and others, that could be connecting to a blockchain and reporting data to a blockchain.
About 60% of critical healthcare data comes from the events that occur outside of clinical settings, including diet information and in-home monitoring of patients, yet today the bulk of this data stays on devices such as monitors themselves, tablets and smartphones, and does not become a part of patients’ histories and records. Much of this data doesn’t go anywhere even though it could be extremely valuable.
A blockchain network would be a perfect place to store such data because of the immutability, transparency and real-time reporting features of blockchain technology. However, similarly to storing medical records on a blockchain, a lot of things need to happen with the regulations of the healthcare field before companies can turn all the benefits of blockchains into a reality that benefits both patients and providers.
Increased safety during adverse medical events
According to the same IBM report, today in the United States less than 20% of hospitals use data from the devices of patients when providing health care. Obviously, this data could be extremely valuable in case of adverse events.
Management and prevention of adverse events have yet another aspect in which blockchain technology could provide a lot of value. This aspect is prevention of use of counterfeit medicines.
Reputable companies spend years and sometimes decades researching, testing and creating new drugs, which is why drugs are often so expensive, yet relatively easy to knock off once there is a formula.
With blockchains, legitimate medications could have special codes and patients would be able to verify that the medications are original just like today it is possible to verify financial transactions on blockchains such as Bitcoin.
Clinical trial records
With clinical trials, it is critically important that companies report and share information correctly, yet according to a report by COMPare, a project that monitored clinical trials has found that only 13% of the trials have reported their findings fully according to the law.
With blockchain, it is possible to record the events that are occurring during trials as these events are occurring, similarly to how a financial blockchain network such as Bitcoin is recording transactions on the network as they are happening. Because the records would be immutable, blockchains for clinical trials could help ensure that all the information is accurate and trustworthy.