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blockchain in healthcare

Benefits of using Blockchain in Healthcare

Some of the points that allow cryptocurrency blockchains to act as a secure record of financial transactions are also applicable to storing medical data. Since most blockchains are sketched as distributed systems that record and protect files through the use of cryptography, it is challenging for someone to disrupt or change the data without having the consent of all other associates of the network. Therefore, immutability is one of the innovations that enable the creation of incorruptible databases for medical records.

Besides, the peer-to-peer architecture used in blockchains allows all copies of a patient’s record to be synchronized with one another as updates are made, even though they are collected in different machines. Each network node holds a copy of the entire blockchain, and they regularly interact to ensure data is up to date and trustworthy. Therefore, decentralization and data sharing are also essential perspectives.

It is worth suggesting that blockchains are distributed but not always decentralized (in terms of governance). Decentralization is not a twofold thing, so depending on how nodes have diverged and on the overall architecture, distributed systems may present variable degrees of devolution. In the meaning of healthcare, blockchains are usually built as a private network, as opposed to the public ones that are typically handled as cryptocurrency ledgers. While anyone will be part of and contribute to the community of a public blockchain, private versions require permission and are managed by a smaller number of nodes.

Potential advantages: 

Increased security

One of the most important use cases of blockchains in the healthcare industry is leveraging the technology to create a secure and unified peer-to-peer (distributed) database. Thanks to blockchains’ immutability, data corruption should no longer be a concern. The blockchain technology can be used to effectively register and track the medical data of thousands of patients.

Unlike conventional databases that rely on a centralized server, the use of a distributed system allows for data exchange with higher levels of security, while also reducing down on the organizational costs that the current system imposes. The decentralized nature of blockchains also makes them less vulnerable to technical breakdowns and external attacks that often compromise valuable information. The security provided by blockchain networks can be especially useful for hospitals, which are often dealing with hacker invasion and ransomware attacks.

Interoperability

Another advantage of blockchain-based medical records is their ability to enhance interoperability among clinics, hospitals, and other health service providers. Technological differences in data storage systems often make it difficult for organizations to share documents. Blockchains, however, can solve this problem by allowing authorized parties to access a unified database of patient files or even medicine distribution records. So rather than attempting to interface with each others’ internal storage, service providers can work together on a single one.

Accessibility and transparency

In addition to explaining the process of record distribution, blockchain systems may also give patients enhanced levels of availability and transparency over their health data. In some cases, requesting for the validation of changes made to patients records can ensure the accuracy of the documents, and if employed suitably, this kind of verification can provide an extra layer of security against both human error and intended falsifications.

Reliable supply chain management

Blockchains can give a secure method for tracing pharmaceuticals through the entire manufacturing and shipping process, thus cutting down on the broad problem of drug duplication. In conjunction with IoT devices used to measure factors such as temperature, blockchain technology could also be used to verify peculiar storage and shipping conditions or to authenticate drug quality.

Insurance fraud protection

Blockchain could also be used to battle medical insurance fraud, a problem which is calculated to cost the American healthcare system around $68 billion each year. Immutable records stored on blockchains and shared with an insurance provider can restrict some of the most common types of fraud, including billing for procedures that never took place and pricing for unnecessary services.

Clinical trials recruiting

Another advantage of blockchain in healthcare is to improve the quality and effectiveness of clinical experiments. Medical data on blockchains could be used by experiment recruiters to identify patients who could benefit from the drugs being tested. Such a system could significantly increase clinical trial enrollment, as many patients are never made aware of relevant drug trials and therefore are never given an opportunity to participate in them. While experiments are conducted, blockchains can be used to ensure the integrity of the data being received.

Potential limitations

Although it offers numerous benefits to both patients and providers, blockchain still has some barriers to overcome before it ultimately reaches popular adoption in the medical sector.

Compliance

Taking the US as a pattern, healthcare companies that are interested in adopting blockchain technology are required to comply with existing data management, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Speaking, HIPAA outlines standards for data storage, distribution, and protection in the healthcare sector. So to be fully compliant, US-based companies would need to deploy customized blockchain record systems, with increased privacy features and limited accessibility.

Initial Costs and Speed

On the provider end, blockchain solutions are likely to involve a high fundamental investment, a fact that indeed prevents large-scale adoption. Also, distributed systems tend to be significantly slower than centralized ones in terms of transactions per second. A big blockchain network, with numerous nodes, would probably need more time to transmit and synchronize data when compared to centralized systems. This is especially bothering for huge databases that would ultimately need to store and track information of millions of patients. The problem would be even dangerous for sizeable sized image data, such as computed tomography or MRI scans.

Closing Thoughts

From creating and sharing permanent medical records to improving transparency in the pharmaceutical supply chain, blockchain systems have several promising use cases in the healthcare division. Though there are some technical, logistical, and regulatory challenges, the implementation of blockchain these systems will likely play a Major significant role in the future of medical data storage and transfer. 

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