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Blockchain Technology for Healthcare: Challenges & Solutions

In 2016, the World Economic Forum claimed that we are currently witnessing the fourth industrial revolution, which includes artificial intelligence, big data management, digital technology, and distributed ledger technology (blockchain). The revolution represents new applications for technology and new ways in which it is being integrated. In the healthcare industry, the revolution is centered on how to digitally connect all existing patient health records, administrative and clinical data, ensuring their safety and confidentiality.

blockchain for healthcare

Blockchain for healthcare

Simply put, blockchain technology is an open collection of transaction records distributed across the network of users. Chronologically added data blocks form a chain, where each block is tagged with a so-called “hash” and contains an identifier of the preceding block. Once the data is added to the chain, it cannot be edited or removed without altering the block’s hash. However, when the hash does not correspond to the preceding block, the chain becomes invalid and rejected by the system.

Distributed data blocks also mean that encrypted data is decentralized and does not require an intermediary to manage the chain. It not only increases the security level but also eliminates spending on mediators. All data records are visible to all authorized users and become verified only when users have validated blocks individually. What is more, shared data enables real-time updates for the whole network increasing data interoperability.

Encrypted data management by blockchain technology for healthcare enables engaged parties to leverage all available public health data (demographic, social, and behavioral parameters) to find care gaps and correlations between population groups and disease prevalence.

blockchain technology for healthcare

Blockchain solutions for healthcare

Data operability, decentralization, and its high security due to the tagging algorithms are what make blockchain for the healthcare industry so attractive. No doubt that blockchain offers a simple and powerful solution for storing and managing electronic health data.

In 2016, blockchain processed nearly 7 transactions per second, covering over 10 million users and more than 200,000 transactions every day. That enables network users to store and manage enormous data volumes, receiving updates almost immediately after a new record has been added. According to Dr. David Hanekom, Chief Medical Officer and Regional President, North America of Solve.Care, the leading developer of blockchain solutions for healthcare in the U.S., “Current healthcare systems are deeply flawed in terms of multiple layers of healthcare administration which create barriers to operational efficiency in terms of interoperability and resource wastage. DLT [blockchain] can break down the data silos formed by various healthcare providers to facilitate better communication of data between stakeholders, while also improving the security of patient data.”

“In the U.S.,” he continued, “current healthcare operations fail to fully inform patients with chronic health conditions as to how best manage their treatment with such conditions, as well as confidentially store patient’s’ data across healthcare providers. DLT can address these pain points to enhance the way that patients access, deliver, manage, and pay for healthcare services and information, while also offering more secure storage of this patient data. By streamlining these processes, the burden on patients associated with accessing medical treatment can be significantly reduced and health outcomes vastly improved”.

Electronic health records coordination and simplification of the administration by enabling data access to all engaged parties are the most promising applications of blockchain for healthcare. The diversity of solutions it can offer to challenges the industry is struggling with encourages health organizations to adopt blockchain to their systems. Patient and staff databases available for insurers, practitioners, and providers (health data, credentials, incentives, etc.), real-time updates of transactions between parties, patient portals, and remote health monitoring are just a few examples of how blockchain is transforming the industry today. Blockchain is also one of the leading solutions for drug traceability systems, as it ensures chronological data records that cannot be edited without disruption of the data chain. The urge for tracking and verifying the drug supply chain became obvious after a national meningitis outbreak in 2012. At which time, Congress set a national standard for drug quality and supply security, aiming to improve tracking and removal of potentially harmful or misbranded drugs.

Though the technology is relatively young and may be associated with digital currency rather than healthcare, the long-term prospects are bright. This causes industry leaders and authorities to take a closer look at blockchain for handling their existing administration inefficiencies.

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