Let’s face it, blockchain is everywhere and as time passes, more and more business, companies, authorities and governments are creating an almighty buzz around it.
This disruptive, exciting, and innovative technology is beginning to revolutionise the way we work and conduct business, and it is set to transform a range of sectors from logistics, to finance, to healthcare.
While Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that runs on the blockchain is experiencing a few ups and downs; it seems blockchain is here to stay.
Leading companies from the corporate world governments and even banks are publicly declaring their support and dedication to the implementation of more blockchain based technologies and this is making it one of the most talked about bits of tech in history.
But how will the blockchain revolutionise the healthcare sector? Let us find out more.
What Is Blockchain?
In the simplest terms possible, the blockchain is a list of records that is continuously growing.
These records are known as “blocks”, and they are linked and secured using cryptography.
Each of these blocks contains a cryptographic hash including information on the previous block, and it also includes a timestamp and information regarding the transaction.
The blockchain is also designed to be resistant to any form of tampering or modification of the data and can record transactions between two parties in a way which is efficient, verifiable, and permanent.
The blockchain is usually managed by a peer-to-peer network which adheres to a specific protocol for the validation of each block.
Once data has been recorded, it cannot be retrospectively edited or changed without changing all of the blocks that have come after it, which would require the agreement and collaboration of the majority of the network.
It became the first digital currency to offer a solution to the issue of double spending, without having to involve an authority or make the platform centralised.
Blockchains are secure and are an excellent example of a computing system which has what is known as a high Byzantine Fault Tolerance (BFT) as well as achieving a decentralised consensus.
This means that the blockchain becomes suitable for recording events and information such as medical records, which is what we delve into in more detail in this article.
For more detailed information, read our guide to What Is Blockchain Technology.
How Is Blockchain Being Used In The Healthcare Sector?
Blockchain technology has found its way into the healthcare sector, and it is laying the foundations for a revolution in the way that things are done.
A study conducted by IBM found that around 16% of healthcare executives were planning to implement blockchain solutions in the next 12 months and that a further 56% had plans to do so by 2020.
Healthcare companies and governments are just beginning to realise the full potential of blockchain technology, but much has not been discovered or comprehended regarding what it could solve in the future.
The introduction of blockchain into the healthcare sector is anticipated to solve a myriad of the issues that have plagued it for years.
First of all, a shared database of health information should be created and be accessible to doctors and providers, regardless of the EMS that they are using.
This system would benefit from the high security and privacy, as well as requiring less administration time for doctors who would allow them to spend more time tending to their patients.
It would also facilitate the better sharing of research results that could help present new and improved drugs and treatments for a range of conditions.
The truth of the matters it that the healthcare industry is drowning in masses of data and information such as patient records and notes, complex billing, research, clinical trials and more.
By adopting and implementing blockchain technology over time, the industry can develop a system which fully supports its needs, as well as governance issues.
Management of Medical Data
One of the primary uses for the blockchain in healthcare will be for the control of medical data.
By using blockchains, any provider or doctor would be able to access patients records securely, solving the issue of wasted time, money, and unnecessary duplication.
The idea is to give medical professionals one-stop access to patients complete medical history including every single medical professional that they have ever seen.
Drug Development and Supply Chain
Another suggested use is in the area of drug development and supply chain integrity.
Not only would a blockchain be able to facilitate the development of new drugs through making results more widely available, but it would also reduce the issue of counterfeit medicines which is currently costing pharma companies over $200 billion every year.
Patients’ Claims and Billing
Blockchain tech can also be used to manage patients claims and billing.
In American, medical care fraud currently totals around $30 million a year, and the use of a blockchain system would help to reduce it by removing the requirement for an intermediary significantly, and through offering automated actions and efficient processing.
When it comes to medical research, blockchain technology can also be utilised to improve the current way of doing things.
Activities such as clinical trials and the outcomes for each patient can be stored on the blockchain and can help to improve not just patient outcomes, but overall care as well.
At the moment, there are too many different systems in play, and it is impossible for a human to process and quantify all of the data that is generated and recorded, blockchain can change this.
Regarding data security, blockchain has a big part to play.
During 2015-2016, in the US alone, over 140 million patient records were breached or leaked.
With an increase in the number of devices that are connected to the internet, as well as the march of IoT and the Internet of Medical Things, it is becoming even more challenging to keep systems up to date and secure.
Due to the secure nature of the blockchain, it is possible to keep the data storage infrastructure safe and secure across all networks, systems and devices.
These are just some of how the blockchain can be used in the medical and healthcare sector.
Which Countries Are Already Utilising It?
Several countries are leading the way when it comes to using blockchain technology in their healthcare systems.
One such example is Estonia which announced in March 2017 that it would be using blockchain to help with increasing data security.
Estonia has a longstanding reputation as one of the most digitally advanced in Europe and last year the government signed a deal with Guardtime, a blockchain company that would allow them to secure the health records of over 500,0000 Estonians.
Finland has also announced that they will be using blockchain technology to facilitate the exchange of cross-border data for social insurance and digital prescriptions, with Estonia and Estonian citizens.
The government of Dubai are also currently experimenting with Blockchain technology to secure the medical records of its citizens and residents. This is a part of a much bigger project that aims to securely store all government documents on a blockchain system by 2020.
The government aims to create a system that allows the seamless interaction and communication between patient and doctor, as well as allowing patients to share all, or part, of their data with any doctor that is a part of the system.
In China, multi-billion-dollar corporation, Alibaba has announced plans to partner with Chinese authorities to create a blockchain network that will help to secure data about health.
Allhealth will work with local authorities to connect information using current equipment and systems and to bridge the gap between health centres and hospitals using safe and secure blockchain technology.
While China is somewhat against the concept of cryptocurrency, it seems that the uses and benefits of the blockchain have not gone unnoticed.
Also, in 2017, the Dutch Government was given proper certification for a blockchain solution in the healthcare sector that would allow it to be used to facilitate communication between all of the country’s healthcare providers and institutions including hospitals and government agencies.
Another country that will benefit massively from the introduction of blockchain technology into the healthcare system is America, yet surprisingly, so far, they have been a little hesitant to do so.
Perhaps this could be due to the current upheaval in the sector due to issues with the current administration, as well as the intense levels of competition between healthcare providers – working together and sharing information could be a difficult task to facilitate.
That said, it is probable that the allure of blockchain technology will prove too difficult to resist and the benefits that it can bring will overcome any possible objections.
The Future Of Blockchain In Healthcare
Source: Frost & Sullivan
As for the future of blockchain in healthcare, 2018 is sure to be an exciting year.
In 2017, we saw various countries announce a dedication to incorporating blockchain into their healthcare systems, and in 2018 we expect this number to increase further.
We also expect to see a more significant uptake from private healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies as they begin to understand that high levels of security and privacy, as well as the many cost-saving implications that such technology has.
In 2018, we expect to see patient’s records make the shift to blockchain systems, and we hope to look at drug trials and clinical trials be managed in much the same way.
Not only will this increase security and efficiency but it is hoped it will save peoples lives and improve the levels of care available.
What Else Can Blockchain Be Used For?
Blockchain has a myriad of uses, and not all are directly linked to cryptocurrencies.
Many people make the mistake of assuming that blockchain only has uses that pertain to currencies and financial transactions, and some even believe that its fate is as uncertain as that of Bitcoin when the reality could not be further from the truth.
There are many additional uses for blockchain technology, and some of them will surprise you.
Ideas that have been put forward for blockchain technology include logistics and supply chain management, charging and parking of electric cars, paying parking fines, protecting music and digital content, lending people money, sharing electricity with neighbours, proving and verifying identity.
As well as proving ownership of an asset, managing contracts such as house sales, issuing shares, executing equity swaps, issuing money from a central bank, smoothing out the shipping process, running a decentralised marketplace, registering music copyright, voting, registering land rights, and running a prediction market.
It has also been suggested as a possible use for certifying students and verifying academic qualifications. This is traditionally a laborious and somewhat slow process requiring telephone calls, emails and sometimes even the posting of documents.
If all qualifications were written into a secure global database where they could not be deleted or edited, it would make the entire process much more accessible.
The same process or system could be used to verify work history, through the creation of a sort of blockchain based CV.
Malta was one of the first countries worldwide to implement educational certificates based on the blockchain.
There is no doubt that blockchain technology is incredibly versatile and that it is going to have significant implications on the way we do things in all areas of government, the economy, and commerce.
2018 is set to be an exciting year, and even if Bitcoin evaporates into thin air as some cynics are predicting, the groundbreaking technology that underpins it is only going to increase in scope and popularity.
Hopefully, the question on how the blockchain will revolutionise the healthcare sector is answered now.
For more information read our guide to 5 Ways Blockchain Technology Will Change The World.