The blockchain system has many real and potential applications. The experience of cryptocurrencies demonstrated it very well. But there are other options that can, if not fundamentally rebuild some areas of human activity, then noticeably optimize them. And healthcare is one of these areas.
Ways to adapt blockchain to healthcare needs
To begin with, the very functions of the blockchain that allow it to work effectively with cryptocurrency can also work when dealing with medical data. Confidentiality, reliability, invariability and speed of exchange are also extremely important for them. Another question is how to organize the system so that each participant can take advantage of it.
The most effective method of working with this information may be the so-called “private blockchain”. A network which everyone can connect to, but only trusted validator nodes are allowed to add new data. Here, it is the computers at doctors’ offices. And patients’ machines, in this situation, will act as “storage nodes” that provide both data stability and access to some of its categories. Your medical history, for example. Or your electronic medical record.
Suppliers of medical equipment, representatives of the pharmacological industry and various research institutes should be added to the same system. A common decentralised database will bring healthcare collaboration to a whole new level.
Information security. It’s not even about the complexity of theft, but rather “backdating”. Alas, in medicine, this is a fairly common phenomenon designed to protect the interests of doctors to the detriment of patients. However, the immutability of the blockchain network will prevent this.
In addition, the overall efficiency of data storage will increase. The situations like “Your medical record is lost and we cannot recover it” will be impossible — copies of the card will be stored on all machines connected to the network. But access to confidential information will only be available to those eligible. And thanks to cryptographic coding, it will be much more difficult for hackers to get this very data, even when connected to a shared network.
Interoperability. More precisely — a simplified interaction between different databases. The fact is that suppliers of medical equipment and pharmaceutical representatives have their own internal networks with their own architecture. And doctors, respectively, have their own. The blockchain system can act as a “consolidating factor” that simplifies all types of interaction by creating a “single database”. With limited access, of course.
Transparency. Due to the simplification of data exchange, patients will have the opportunity to control exactly what information about them will be uploaded to the shared network. This will avoid abuse by doctors. On the other hand, when all the doctor’s activities are clearly visible and documented, it is extremely difficult to make any complaints.
Efficient supply chain management. Thanks to a single transparent database, inspection authorities will be able at any time to find out how things are with the supplies, whether the medicines purchased are in accordance with the prescribed ones, and also what the targeted funds are spent on. In addition, the blockchain system in combination with automatic sensors will allow you to control the storage conditions of drugs and track the use of potent prescription drugs.
Fraud protection. We are talking about the imperfection of existing insurance systems. Alas, the data of medical records are falsified at all levels in order to get insurance that is not relied on in a particular situation, and, on the other hand, to get medicines and funds that could be sent “bypassing” standard reporting procedures. In addition, with such protection, it will be impossible to enter records of allegedly performed paid procedures into the database — the patient will have the opportunity to partially control this process due to transparency.
Clinical trials. On the one hand, researchers will have access to a global database of patients so that they can more effectively recruit a “target audience”. On the other hand, patients will have the opportunity to independently find and participate in existing experimental programs. Gathering medical statistics will be much easier, too.
- Conformity. Many countries have laws that protect sensitive medical data. In the US, for example, this is the 1996 HIPAA. Sad, but the classic blockchain system does not correspond to it. There are two ways out: either change the laws, which is unlikely to happen, or adapt the blockchain to its conditions. The second option is simpler: just make an individual registration system in the blockchain and different levels of access to advanced privacy features. So, for example, the attending physician can get all the necessary information; the patient, only about himself; the pharmaceutical representative, only that regarding the prescribed medicines and recommendations; and the researcher, the clinical data, devoid of information about the patient’s personality.
- Speed. Unfortunately, the larger the blockchain, the slower it works. And in the healthcare situation, we are talking about millions of nodes that will transmit rather “heavy” data packages to each other. So there may be some delay in the process of exchanging data and updating stored information.
- High initial costs. To create a network, to connect computers, to train personnel in proper interaction is quite expensive and time-consuming. And if you take into account that in some countries, only the head doctor’s office has a computer, then it’s clear why they are slowing down with the introduction of such a convenient system.
The blockchain system can optimize many aspects of the healthcare sector. Especially those related to access to information, speed and protection from “backdating”. And, despite some difficulties associated with possible implementation, its potential is significant.