Better care, added protection, and improved transparency for all trusted parties
Blockchain technology is making headlines everywhere. If you have recently attended a tech event, chances are that you may have heard about it. Everyone is talking about it—from the Nigerian government to the President of the United States. Despite all the hype, many people find it difficult to grasp the concept behind the technology. Nevertheless, blockchain has created a huge impact on businesses across all industry verticals. The technology has evolved beyond simply capturing cryptocurrency transactions like bitcoin to a medium that allows decentralized information sharing and application operations. Experts in the industry have now realized that blockchain may be a great fit for the pharmaceutical industry.
So what is blockchain?
If we filter out all the technical jargon and hype, blockchain is a decentralized, digitized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions. The fundamental strength of blockchain lies mainly in its networked immutability and data integrity. In simpler terms, it’s a distributed database that contains the history of transactions and records. After a transaction has been requested, it’s displayed on the peer-to- peer network for validation. Following this, the validated transaction is combined with other transactions to create a new set of data for the ledger.
What are the opportunities for this emerging technology in the healthcare and pharma industries?
Blockchain can be applied to many different aspects in the healthcare domain-validating patient data, managing Electronic Health Records (EHRs), tracking research methods to manufacture safer drugs and many more.
Here are some of the ways how blockchain can revolutionize the healthcare sector.
1) Smooth exchange of data
Whenever we hear the term blockchain in healthcare, the first thing that comes to mind is the exchange of data. However, besides data, blockchain-enabled healthcare systems can provide many solutions to various challenges like health data security, interoperability and integrity. Most importantly, the technology can enable the health data exchange systems that are cryptographically secured and irrevocable. Current technologies do not fully address these requirements since they are limited in areas like security, interoperability, and privacy. Also, the healthcare records at present are disjointed to shortage of common architectures.
Using blockchain systems, healthcare centers could direct a regulated set of information, which could be then stored in a nationwide distributed ledger. This information would be then made available universally through the blockchain private key, enabling patients to easily share their information with those organizations. This would eventually allow smooth access to real-time patient health data, and discard the burden and expenses of data reconciliation. It will also eradicate inconsistency data standards and dearth of compatibility across health data exchange systems.
Guardtime, a platform for ensuring the integrity of systems and data at industrial scale, recently partnered with Estonian e-Health Authority to speed up adoption of blockchain, auditability, transparency and governance for managing patient healthcare records. Prescrypt, a blockchain-based prototype, provides patients 100% ownership of medical records, allowing them to revoke and grant provider access to personal data. This concept is now being used in places where blockchain and healthcare are coming together.
2) Securing pharmaceutical supply chain
When exploring possibilities to use blockchain in the pharmaceutical sector, the example of pharma supply chain makes a very powerful case. Drugs are first developed and manufactured at manufacturing centers and transferred to wholesale distributors before being distributed to retail companies and pharmacies. Only then, they are delivered to patients. In such a scenario, blockchain technology can validate the integrity of the drug supply chain and fuel new drug development by allowing the blockchain system to manage and support the drug development process. Currently, substandard drugs entering the legal supply chain pose an immense threat to the healthcare industry in general. With the help of blockchain technology some of the currently implemented processes in the supply chain can be drastically improved by utilizing smart contracts, distributed ledgers, proof of work and transfer of assets.
Irish healthcare application FivePharma provides auditing, consulting and training services in the healthcare sector. The app is updated every month and focuses on making the pharmaceutical industry better.
3) Tracking payments and billings
According to the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, health care fraud costs the nation around $68 billion every year, about 3% of the country’s$2.26 trillion in health care spending. Although they constitute only a tiny fraction, these fraudulent claims carry a huge price tag. Health care fraud has a human face too. There are patients who are exploited and subjected to unsafe or unnecessary medical procedures. There are also those whose legal insurance information is used to submit fabricated claims or whose medical records are compromised.
However, with blockchain applications and systems tracking tests, results, billing and payments by patients, it could reduce fraud to a significant extent. Systems like Medicare could also save us money by wiping out middlemen who are responsible to track the flow of information through various channels.
For the patients, blockchain systems could make insurance agreements and payments clearer, eventually reducing the threat of being exploited.
4) Improved security
We are now seeing data breaches at healthcare institutions with alarming regularity. It’s evident that current perimeter and signature based security controls aren’t functioning effectively. These attacks result in loss of confidential information and most importantly, they are initiated by malware that compromises the integrity of the system being attacked.
One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Merck & Co, recently became a victim of a ransomware attack. Many similar attacks in the healthcare findustry slowly started gaining pace. Hospital networks like Heritage Valley Health Systems that manages two hospitals, was victimized, resulting in the postponement of emergency services. One of the most effective weapons against such attacks seems to be blockchain. According to a Deloitte white paper, all healthcare centers linked to the blockchain can have their own copy of the healthcare ledger. If a block needs to be adjusted, 51% of the networked participants have to approve the change since each copy needs to be updated to showcase the change. This improves security and restricts the risk of malicious activity.
A successful use of blockchain in this case is Patient Care Outcomes Research (PCOR) states the paper. PCOR conducts patient safety event reporting, adverse event identification, public health reporting and clinical research. On account of the blockchain’s privacy and security components, PCOR researchers can easily access a single source of information that maintains integrity of the health care report of every patient.
Bringing it All Together
Blockchain technology will never act as a magic wand to solve emerging business problems in the highly inter-connected and fast-changing digital health ecosystem. It‘s still in its nascent stage of development but will slowly lead to better care, added protection, and improved transparency for all trusted parties.
Also published on Medium.