A complete guide on blockchain applications for the healthcare sector.
Leveraging blockchain to the healthcare sector can bring much-needed innovation to the industry.
In other articles, we have also have explored unique features of blockchain as well as applications and use cases of blockchain in banking, supply chain, and even agriculture industries.
Healthcare industry, even in most developed countries, is in dire need of ailing. Yes, medical treatments have come a long way in the past few decades. But that is about it. The healthcare still faces major roadblocks as far as its operations, technological solutions and innovations are concerned.
Healthcare industry has witnessed vertical innovation i.e. healthcare-specific innovations like medical treatments or medical devices. There have been tons of them. But, then healthcare is not just that, right?
It is more than the fancy scalpels and fast-acting pain killers. Healthcare is about delivering proper care, in a timely order, accessible to everyone, cost-effective as well as efficient services, patient-centric, technologically updated and so much more. This list goes on!
Horizontal innovation means an innovation not specific or bound to one specific industry or sector. For example- the Internet. An innovation that has proven equally useful for supply chain management as well as finance
But, as far as healthcare is concerned, the industry is lacking any major real horizontal innovation. Billions are spent each year for R & D in the healthcare sector but no game-changing results have been obtained.
We will get into how leveraging blockchain can help the healthcare sector. But first let’s take a look at these statistics:
- Do you know, in the US over 132 million medical data records are being breached by hacking or IT incident?
- Or that it costs $250 billion to process 30 billion healthcare transaction every year?
- Do you know that 3 out of 10 tests are reordered because the results cannot be found?
- Do you know that healthcare data breach cost an average of $408 per record!
Healthcare Industry Concerns
The healthcare industry is one of the most vulnerable sectors in the world today.
In many countries, the data still exists on physical files i.e. the health records aren’t in any digital form. Additionally, there is an absence of a singular unanimous data as well as a singular platform. A patient’s medical records are distributed across multiple platforms.
His medical identity is fragmented into different pieces among various professionals. These include doctors, hospitals, health specialist, insurance companies, even wearable devices tracking our health. As the number of healthcare players increases, so does the number of records (of the same individual). This leads to wastage in time, resources and money.
Moreover, the countries that have gone digital with the medical industry are now facing the threat of data breaches. Medical data records are stolen, lost or hacked. Health data records have become an illegal business for some people. The patient becomes a scapegoat, feeling like he/she has no control over one’s own personal information. Patients have become over skeptical and there is a feeling of distrust.
The industry is constantly evolving with new medical procedures, practices, and drugs. Billions are spent each year for research and development of better practices. However, the data is so scattered across multiple platforms that valuable amounts of information somehow doesn’t translate to equally valuable discoveries.
Meanwhile, here strikes blockchain technology with promises of a unanimous data ledger, secured with cryptography, and more importantly protecting our identities in this data-driven world.
Does this mean, finally, a safe and secure world of healthcare! Savings of billions of money! Finding new drugs which can help save cancer!
Well, when you put it like that!
No, not necessarily. Indeed many of blockchain features can bring effective changes. So, implementing blockchain in healthcare is indeed a promising venture. However, we cannot expect blockchain to turn into a superhero, and remove all the woes of this industry.
But, it does have enormous potential. Which, how and why are the questions that we are going to explore in this post.
Blockchain in Healthcare
Implementing blockchain technology in the healthcare sector will give it a new dimension. Blockchain’s ability to record and unite the scattered bundle of data in a way that is useful to serve better makes it even more favorable.
Below are the applications of blockchain in the healthcare industry.
Uniform Singular Layer of Health Information
According to a black book survey, the estimated costs of repeated care due to duplicate records is $1950 per patient. Each piece of patient data is dispersed across multiple platforms. Standard data such as a patient’s age, gender, or habitat is being stored at an individual organizational level. However, our present system lacks the storage of information on a singular layer. Hence all the medical industry players including healthcare providers, insurance companies, government records, laboratories- will have different (or even same) information of an individual.
All these same/different pieces of information stitched together and placed on one platform is the magic of blockchain technology.
A uniform blockchain ledger enables us to keep all the data under one platform. Unique sets of patient data such as its past medical history, medical reports, illnesses, allergies, as well as the care and procedures performed on an individual will be stored on the blockchain layer.
Healthcare organizations can place a standardized set of information for each patient interaction on the blockchain. Additionally, this also enables each individual to carry their whole medical history on the go.
Data interoperability in healthcare refers to the easy exchange, use and communication of data. This enables faster workflow, use of better resources, cost reductions, providing correct treatment to the patient as well as quality care.
Data interoperability in healthcare is a tricky business. Today, most of our data remain in siloes at individual health organizations. There is an ever-present threat of the data being hacked, stolen or lost by bringing it on a digital cloud. Moreover, the patient remains skeptical in regards to the privacy of his personal data.
Executing blockchain improvises us to have a system which keeps ‘the patient’ at the center. Key to his/her personal data remains in the hand of that individual.
Also, data interoperability with blockchain ensures data immutability. It not only records the patient’s prescription details, diagnosis, treatment provided but also ensures that the data cannot be changed/deleted. Having nationwide interoperability also reduces time, money and resources in the healthcare industry.
For example- Let’s say, a patient undergoes surgery in one doctor’s office and later goes to another physician. Blockchain would help transfer all the information to another physician with the approval of that patient. Now the physician can examine all the symptoms, treatments, lab reports, drugs- used in the patient’s care. All this in real-time. This allows him to decide better results for the patient. Data interoperability on the blockchain ensures that the patient need not do the lab test results again.
The key thing to note here is that the patient has the key to his/her medical history. The information can be viewed by any other organization only after the patient gives approval for the same. With cryptography, that data remains secure. A blockchain healthcare system facilitates in building data interoperable patient-centric healthcare system.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 10% of drugs in developing nations are fake. Each year millions of lives are lost due to counterfeit drugs. A blockchain platform can help the pharmaceutical industry can help track any drug since its manufacturing stage. Blockchain technology guarantees transparency in the pharmaceutical industry.
Each product can be identified by giving it a unique identification number. With that number, the life of that product can be traced on the blockchain. Since the time the drug is manufactured, until it reaches the retailer’s office, the whole data is recorded on the blockchain. The approved authorities can validate the drug by tracing which ingredients are used in producing the drug. Key players like FDA can be included in the blockchain. This, in turn, creates a shared notification system with FDA looped in on the counterfeit, illegal or fake drugs.
Blockchain healthcare pharmaceutical industry helps in building a transparent process. The authenticity of medicines, proper validation by the approved authorities and easy identification of counterfeit drugs- are some of the benefits that blockchain technology provides.
Clinical trials are a vital source for advancements in medical care. New drugs and practices are developed with the results obtained from clinical trials. A lot of information, including test reports, patient demographics, methods tested, as well as analysis is collected. It is necessary to record the information at each step of clinical trials. Without proper documentation, it is fairly easy to modify/change the data, in order to obtain relevant results. This can eventually become a huge risk in patient’s lives.
Here is how we can innovate clinical trials with the help of blockchain. It can be a great tool to record each document and attach a timestamp to it. Therefore, anyone gets proof of the existence of when the document came into existence and how the results were obtained. Additionally, once any document is stored inside the blockchain, it becomes impossible to modify or delete it.
In clinical research, each scientist has expertise in some specific field. While carrying out experiments, scientists only look for results in their area of expertise. But what if, in those experiments, a scientist finds molecules (not relevant to his research), but can be revolutionizing in solving some of the biggest diseases. Now, here is how we can place blockchain between. Imagine a blockchain, which has all the molecules discovered on one side and has all the scientists on the other side, who are experts in their own fields. The analysis can help discover potential drugs and practices. It can help solve some of the biggest illnesses in the world.
Billing and Insurance
In the sector, payment administration costs account for 10-20% of the total costs. There are multiple parties and processes involved with patient identity and procedures for insurance claims.
Our conventional system also demands a lot of paperwork when it comes to billing and insurance in the medical industry. All these compilations result in an increase in unnecessary costs. Unintentional billing inaccuracies and duplicate fee for the same procedure have become very common. Additionally, medical frauds in billings and insurance are rising every year.
Blockchain can help in reducing errors and inaccuracies in billing. With all the actions and procedures taken, recorded inside the blockchain, the whole process of billing becomes automated.
Moreover, the automated process also helps in maintaining accounts in real-time, faster processing and reduced administration costs.
In turn, this can even help in insurance claims processing.
The transparent records of procedures performed and consequent billings made in the name of a patient are easily verifiable. Hence, honest patients do not have to worry about their insurance claims being rejected. This can also reduce the insurance frauds in the medical sector helping save millions annually. The need for going back and forth between multiple intermediate parties in order to process the insurance claims can be minimized. Subsequently, the paperwork required will also be lessened.
These are some of the use cases in which the use of blockchain technology can aid.
Its ability to update and provide information in real-time can be used to control an epidemic or contagious disease. Or even help in providing a platform for faster organ matching systems.
Granted the technology is still at a very nascent stage. The practical applications are still very much in the process. It will take a much longer time to determine the outcomes of such practices implemented. But, just in case, if the technology does work the way we are anticipating or maybe even better, it can truly help create value-based care!