With the advent of blockchain, every industry could undergo radical changes. It is mainly because of its unique features like immutability, transparency, automation, etc. These features have the potential to solve the existing challenges of almost every industry and the healthcare industry is no exception.
The existing system of the healthcare industry is facing several challenges. These challenges leads to loss of a substantial portion of their revenue and patients’ care. Blockchain could act as a panacea to several of these challenges. Moreover, a more patient-centric approach is the need of the moment. The Blockchain Technology could help the healthcare industry to make this transition smooth and successful. As per the research paper on NCBI, Blockchain is being used for electronic health records as the main use-case.
Throughout this article, we will explore how blockchain could benefit the healthcare industry and how it could replace existing difficulties. We will also be going through the use-cases of blockchain in the healthcare industry. As we examine these use-cases, we will gain a better understanding of how blockchain could transform the healthcare industry and make it more efficient than previously imagined.
Benefits of blockchain in healthcare:
The Healthcare Sector is suffering from several shortcomings. Blockchain can benefit the healthcare industry in overcoming these shortcomings. Some of the most notable benefits are:
Enhanced Data Security
Healthcare has proved to be the most vulnerable sector to cyber-attacks, accounting for the highest number of attacks among all the sectors. The current healthcare organizations operate using a single central database. This database is managed by one party within the organization. This approach leads to a single point of failure. In such a case, if a hacker attacks the system, he can get access to the entire database and put the patients as well as the organisation at risk.
The use of Blockchain would prevent cyberattacks by eliminating the issue of a single point of failure. Blockchain using its distributed ledger technology will grant access to various parties present on the network instead of a single party as done in the traditional healthcare systems. All of these parties would be able to see & verify each transaction in the ledger, thereby making it tamper-resistant. In this scenario, to get control of the entire database hacker would have to hack and get access to the majority or 51% of nodes present on the network. Hacking of more than one node makes it very difficult to attack the database, and adding cryptography on top of it makes it nearly impossible.
Interoperability & Integration of data
With the advances in electronic information technology, most healthcare institutions are now storing records of their patients in digital form. Every institution stores this data in its own centralized personal databases. The problem with such databases is that they can’t share their data with other parties such as patients & other healthcare institutions without proper authorisation due to security and privacy concerns. As a result, efficient and smooth transition of the data isn’t achieved between the parties. Grant of authorisation in itself is a time-consuming process and after authorisation lack of proper channels for the transition of data between the parties makes this process even more challenging and segmented. This heterogeneity of medical data is inhibiting the healthcare industry’s ability to serve mankind at its full potential.
With the use of private or consortium blockchains, different institutions can share data without compromising security, privacy, and authorization. Blockchain would solve all the issues regarding interoperability and integration of data among all the parties with the help of its decentralized ledger technology. An increase in collaboration among all stakeholders in healthcare will unlock substantial use cases and improve health care delivery by making the right data available at the right time to the right people.
Visibility & Traceability of medical supplies
The current healthcare system is facing issues such as lack of transparency and traceability of medical supplies. The primary reason for these issues is that there are many participants involved in a medical supply transaction, including the raw material vendor, manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer. Now, all these participants maintain their own databases for their services, and reconciliation of all the databases becomes hard to achieve. This causes ambiguity in the supply chain of medical supplies and hampers transparency. Consumers along with other stakeholders are unable to verify the authenticity, quality, and price of the medical supply.
Blockchain can help secure, and identify the trail of, medical supplies, with full transparency. Blockchain, with its distributed network of computers that share a secure ledger of transactions among the participants connected to the network, will integrate all the transactions by the parties involved in one ledger and its copy will be replicated by the computer of every participant in real-time. Through this distributed network, all parties involved in the transaction receive updates about medical supplies in real-time, addressing the issue of transparency and traceability.
Automated & Efficient record-keeping
Comprehensive, timely, and accurate record-keeping is the most critical part of every healthcare institution. Still, many healthcare institutions are dependent on outdated systems & manual practices for keeping patient records. This leads to time-consuming and error-prone record keeping. Furthermore, improper record-keeping not only compromises patient care but also puts the institution at risk for legal claims.
Blockchain can turn this dull and outdated process of record-keeping into a dynamic automated process. Blockchain with its feature of the smart contract can automate the manual-intensive task of record-keeping. By achieving automation, accuracy will also get improved. The labor force of the healthcare institution which used to spend most of their time in dealing with these clerical tasks can move on to more meaningful tasks such as attending to patient needs. The implementation of blockchain will solve the perennial problem of staff shortages in healthcare institutions.
Healthcare fraud is a serious and growing industry challenge. It comes in many different forms: over-billing for services or supplies, falsifying patient data, miscoding of claims, etc. Healthcare fraud directly impacts the quality and cost of care that a patient receives, and can put patients’ lives at risk when they are exposed to treatment or procedures that are not medically warranted. The traditional health care system is incapable of curbing such fraudulent practices due to a lack of patient participation and transparency in the healthcare sector.
Blockchain technology enables secure data management with patient participation and transparency, which could mitigate this risk of health care fraud and abuse. Mainly fraudulent practices in the health industry and elsewhere are done through manipulation or destruction of data. Blockchain framework proposes a tamper-evident and near-immutable as it doesn’t allow deleting or changing of data. Transaction records occur when people agree on the validity of data, and the content doesn’t get changed after the fact. This makes it harder for the people engaged in fraud to manipulate the data on the blockchain.
Blockchain for healthcare: Use Cases
Here are the few major use cases that could utilize the potential of the blockchain technology and make the healthcare industry more accessible, reliable, and accountable.
Electronic Health Records
At present medical records of patients are being stored in the private databases of individual healthcare institutions. Patients even for their own records have to request it from their healthcare institution. Blockchain will give complete authority to patients of their own medical records and they will be able to share or transfer their records to other healthcare providers. This will also change the scenario of management of health data of patients as blockchain will enable electronic health records to record comprehensive health data of patients from all healthcare providers in one single record.
Mobile Health and Remote Monitoring
Despite all the recent advances in technology, healthcare institutions still lack a system that allows them to remotely monitor their patients’ health. Currently, there are apps, devices, and sensors in the market that can record the patient’s health and collect data. Blockchain could serve as a linchpin for storing, sharing, and retrieving the remotely collected biomedical data from these devices.
Health Insurance Claims & Verifications
Claims and verification of health insurance have become the biggest pain point of the medical insurance industry. The traditional claim verification and reimbursement process/method is unable to deal with the increasing frauds and abuse of the system. The medical insurance sector can benefit from blockchain’s immutability, transparency, and auditability of data stored on it. Moreover, with the help of smart contracts, the process of verification and reimbursement of claims can be automated and made more efficient.
Clinical trials are a data-intensive process. They require large amounts of human data to run their research programs. At present, the major challenges for clinical trials are the lack of access to patient data and the spiraling cost of trials. Blockchain would solve these problems by unlocking the siloed data in individual databases of health care institutions, providing better data management support, and enabling real-time monitoring of clinical trial subjects.
Pharma Supply Chain
Prevention of production and distribution of counterfeit drugs has become a significant threat in the healthcare industry. The lack of transparency in the traditional supply chain management is a major cause for such a rampant increase of counterfeited drugs. Blockchain can address this drawback of the supply chain, ensure complete transparency and help identify the origin of medical supplies.
Blockchain has a lot to offer and is ready to deliver the results and transform the healthcare industry for good. To counter the significant challenges this industry is facing, it is essential to bring a change and improve the quality of healthcare services currently being given out. With proper implementation and robust applications, blockchain technology can be the savior of the healthcare industry.
The use of blockchain in healthcare is still in its infancy today but within the next few years, it won’t be surprising to see blockchain become an integral part of healthcare.
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