The healthcare industry is one of the fastest industries regarding innovation. The operations and medicines we have today are both lifesaving and life changing.
However, if we look at our patient journey the process hasn’t changed much at all.
We book an appointment with our doctor. We visit the doctor and tell them our symptoms and problems (if we know them). The doctor makes a diagnosis which can lead down several paths such as lifestyle advice, a prescription for medication or referring us to a specialist.
These routes, depending on where you live, can have problems that can be life threatening, whether that’s information not being cross-referenced or taking ineffective drugs.
In this article, we explore some of the ways blockchain can and is helping the healthcare industry with these problems.
Patient Health Records
Patient health records is one of the most important aspects of healthcare. Your health records get updated with each visit to your doctor.
The information in your records can include your:
- name, age and address
- health conditions
- treatments and medicines
- allergies and past reactions to medications
- tests, scans and x-ray results
While extremely important, health records are also one of the areas that causes the most friction.
For example, a patient might visit their local doctor regarding a medical matter. After diagnosing the patient, the doctor refers the patient to the hospital to see a specialist. Then the doctor updates the patient’s medical records on their system.
The specialist is fully booked, so the patient must wait three months for the earliest opportunity. Unsettled by this, the patient decides to go private for a faster appointment.
However, the private hospital doesn’t have access to the patient’s health records. So, the private hospital requests the patient’s records from the patient’s doctor. To save time while they wait for the records, the private hospital recommends that the patient repeats some of the tests to confirm the doctor’s original diagnosis. The patient wants to settle their mind as fast as possible, so agrees to the repeat tests which costs them money (or their insurance company).
The tests confirm the patient has a medical issue that requires surgery. The patient agrees to the surgery which is successful. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks after the operation the patient gets an infection and gets rushed A&E who have no record of the surgery.
While this is a fictional example, it serves to demonstrate the complex processes and bureaucratic procedures in healthcare regarding health records.
This is one area where blockchain can help the healthcare industry. Instead of patient information being recorded on several different systems, blockchain allows patient information to be decentralised.
With the patient’s permission and encryption key, their information can be accessed at any time whether it’s by their local doctor, a doctor in A&E or a private healthcare doctor. Thus, eliminating wasted time, extra processing and unnecessary paper work. It should also reduce time delays and errors made by human mistakes.
Researching and creating new drugs is expensive. Part of these costs is the privacy and transparency concerns about clinical trials.
Blockchain is a possible solution to solve these privacy concerns.
A person can take part anonymously in clinical trials or allow pharmaceutical companies to access their data for big data analytics.
This benefits the healthcare industry because the security of blockchain might mean more people will be willing to take part in pharmaceutical research. This could lead to more lifesaving or life-changing drugs.
The patients could also be incentivized with discounts on drugs or finance rewards towards medical insurance while at the same time remain confident that their information is both safe and anonymous.
Counterfeit Drugs and Traceability
Counterfeit drugs is big business with $30 billion in sales a year and they kill more than 250,000 children a year. It’s estimated that with some medication there are more counterfeit drugs on the market than real product.
Fake drugs sold to treat life-threatening illnesses have been found to contain printer ink, paint and arsenic. Other drugs, such as the lifestyle drug Viagra dominate the counterfeit drugs market.
On top of this, a worrying number of authorised medicines fail to meet quality standards because of improper storage and other issues.
A possible solution to tackle the counterfeit drugs market is a highly detailed supply chain trail that’s trustworthy.
The power of blockchain makes it’s possible to create a private blockchain specifically for drugs which is both secure and traceable.
Being a private blockchain means only trusted drug manufacturers could register drugs on the blockchain. Then everyone else in the supply chain can verify the transactions.
For example, a drug manufacturer produces a batch of drugs and then registers the unique information on the blockchain.
When the batch of drugs is received by the wholesaler, they can verify the batch using the blockchain is the same batch that came from the manufacturer. The transaction between the manufacturer and the wholesaler is recorded on the blockchain.
The wholesaler then sells the drugs to a pharmacist who can verify the drugs have come from the wholesaler who received them from the manufacturer. The transaction between the wholesaler and pharmacist is then added to the drugs’ blockchain.
The patient buys the drugs from the pharmacist who can verify the drugs’ transaction history while also the transaction between the patient and the pharmacist is recorded on the blockchain.
This is one-way blockchain can be used to help tackle counterfeit drugs, because of its decentralised architecture and digital encryption.
SAP has recently launched their SAP Information Collaboration Hub for Life Sciences, which is a public cloud network that makes collaboration easier for pharmaceutical supply chain trading partners using blockchain.
Accountability for Personal Healthcare
Very often medical symptoms are due to a root cause. If you have a bad knee it’s possible that this is due to weak gluteal muscles. This situation may be easily fixed with regular and specific exercises over a period of time.
However, it’s up to the patient to do the exercises. If they don’t the problem will persist and possibly get worse or cause other medical issues. This is a drain on the medical services and medical insurance companies.
Using a combination of the Internet of Things (IoT) with blockchain is a possible way to get patients to take responsibility of their own health.
For example, a doctor might diagnose a patient with a medical condition that can be fixed with regular exercise.
The patient wearing a smart watch, or some other device, goes to the gym or takes part in some other physical activity that was agreed with their doctor.
The device sends the information to the patient’s health record, which the doctor can review.
Devices connected to the internet are vulnerable to threats and security attacks. However, using blockchain provides a safe and secure way of recording the patient’s information. Therefore, making this possible.
Using the technology in such a way provides benefits to all stakeholders. The patient takes ownership of their health because they’re held accountable, leading to a healthier life. The medical healthcare is freed up from repeat visits from patients, unnecessary surgeries and administration work. The medical insurance industry benefits because they’re not paying for treatments that could be avoided.
Blockchain provides the healthcare industry with some powerful opportunities. However, blockchain is still very new and unfamiliar to the general public. As with most technology it requires the acceptance of the users for it to be successful.
The general public might not be ready for certain healthcare blockchain innovations, but the B2B market is going to be more adapting. This is likely where we’ll see blockchain having an impact first.
Watching how blockchain benefits the healthcare industry will be an exciting experience.
Here at Edge Tech, we have the knowledge and practical experience of attracting some of the hardest to find blockchain experts across the globe.
If you’re looking for blockchain experts or for a blockchain position we’d like to learn more about you.
Ollie Sulley – Co-Founder
T: 01908 382 398