This distributed ledger technology can improve security, efficiency, and the coordination of health care systems as an answer to aging legacy infrastructures.
Health care systems are cornerstones of all modern societies since they provide vital services. As they grow, however, many become less efficient and secure, which can make health care services more expensive and less accessible to the general public. Beyond being the buzzword of 2017, blockchain opens the door to solutions in an increasing global healthcare expenditure that is expected to increase to USD $10.059 trillion by 2022.
While the digitization of healthcare has paved the way for modern infrastructure, current privacy laws, software, and databases have slowly taken the power from the patient. Our existing software faces a few key problems that have both short-term and long-term implications—affecting both healthcare providers and their patients. Inefficiency, disjunction between databases, the disempowerment of patients, high expenses, and security concerns are just some of the many problems the healthcare industry faces.
With a move towards ease of access to data and decentralization in a world where security continues to pose a serious risk, blockchain is becoming the answer to many industry-wide obstacles. Here is how blockchain is applied to many of industry’s burgeoning issues:
Healthcare systems are being targeted by cyber attacks because their legacy infrastructures make data vulnerable. In 2017, the ransomware “WannaCry” crippled the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom and affected over 150 countries. In 2018 and 2019 respectively, hackers broke into Singapore’s government health database and most recently the HIV status of over 14,000 people leaked online, Singapore authorities say.
Given that blockchain is a distributed ledger technology and does not require third-party interventions, it allows institutions to decentralize their databases. Hence, by using blockchain, health care systems can significantly reduce their risk of being subject to cyber threats. It would take too much time and energy for hackers to access all of the nodes within the network and to infect the system.
It is highly important to create an environment where clinicians, administrators, and patients (also known as consumers of healthcare) know that their privacy and data are protected. Such an ecosystem can be enabled by blockchain, either by allowing users to own their information by joining the chain or by helping hospitals to secure their servers and distribute the data on a network.
Efficiency & Coordination
Health care systems are remarkably inefficient. Since they operate with many independent databases, especially in large centralized systems, there is a lack of cohesive communication between these distinct silos. By creating a unified ecosystem of data, distributed ledger software encourages cooperation between networks, improving payment processing, patient tracking, and enterprise workflow.
Sectors like the food industry are already seeing wins with blockchain that healthcare can emulate in regards to supply chain management. Companies like Walmart implemented IBM’s blockchain for food traceability, impacting pharmaceutical stakeholders to participate in the non-profit Center For Supply Chain Studies DSCSA and Blockchain Phase 2 Study. The FDA who is behind this initiative, as declared by current FDA Commissioner Gottleib requires all entities governed under FDA “full implementation of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act, [and] to make sure that every link in the U.S. Drug Supply must be secure.”
Other emerging use cases such as clinical trials involve the management of numerous locations, sources, and stakeholders, along with supervision of substantial amounts of sensitive data. Since blockchain may facilitate data storage, the technology can fuel innovation, as researchers will have greater access to medical record information.
The Future of Healthcare
Blockchain technology is expected to transform the way key players in health care systems interact with each other. Nonetheless, this technological revolution can only succeed with consortium thinking, which implies collaboration between all stakeholders in the sector. In the United States, Synaptic Health Alliance, a diverse consortium of healthcare organizations and other emerging startup consortia are working to identify and monetize shared opportunities in the blockchain space.
Blockchain is not without its problems.
Right now the initial costs can be high, and the integrations need to happen. Currently, most blockchain networks are designed so transactions are publicly accessible. While blockchain systems can be made private and permissible, making it so only certain parties can access boils down to aligned incentives. But it’s clear that the technology is there and can change healthcare for good.