Blockchain, HealthTech

How Blockchain Is Disrupting the Healthcare Ecosystem

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Blockchain is a technology that enables electronic data management with transparency and accountability. It is a ledger of transactions that ensures identical copies of each transaction are visible to all nodes on the network. Members validate the data in the ledger, after which it becomes immutable.

Originally developed to eliminate the need for intermediaries in cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology is gradually becoming mainstream in several industries.

There are places for transparent and immutable record-keeping in the healthcare industry where blockchain will be helpful. This piece looks at the need for blockchain in healthcare, its benefits and use cases.

How the Pandemic Highlighted the Healthcare Industry’s Need for Better Tech

While the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing and associated with over 6 million deaths worldwide, the speed and scope of scientific discovery, data dissemination, and technology development are staggering.

Technology and data management systems can create flexible environments that enable collaboration, innovation and equitable care, which will determine the scale and severity of the next pandemic.

A host of issues surfaced within the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • A digital divide appeared with an urgent pivot to telehealth technologies to protect patients’ contact with others and mitigate hospital overload, especially in communities of minority groups and older populations.
  • Access to reliable internet was a challenge worldwide. The digital disenfranchisement is highest in rural residents, Black and Hispanic communities, and those with low incomes in the USA. Telemedicine and telehealth systems fall through the cracks without access to reliable internet.
  • During COVID-19, there was an immediate need for medical equipment and supplies to cater to high demand. When supply chains break down with known vendors due to nationwide lockdowns, there are challenges with new vendors around trust issues, ensuring compliance with standards, timeliness of delivery, fraud management and customs certification.
  • Similar trust issues exist in pharmaceutical supply chains with concerns about intellectual property, quality control, counterfeiting, illicit drug sales, etc. Ensuring an adequate supply of drugs was another challenge area, as was ensuring tracking and timely delivery.
  • Limited information sharing capabilities disrupted the healthcare system with a lack of collaboration among healthcare institutions around the availability of staff, hospital beds, ICU beds and life-saving medical equipment.

The pandemic proved that the healthcare industry needs access to reliable technology to plug grave loopholes.

Patient Health Records & Health Information Exchange – Blockchain Use Case

Even though many healthcare establishments today work with a patient health record system to manage patient healthcare details, the systems continue to be siloed and lack integration capabilities with other systems. Vendors of these systems roll out protocols that make interoperability impossible.

Healthcare providers use multiple healthcare systems to manage patient records, leading to integration, connectivity and transparency challenges. These gaps disable patient record sharing, inflate health costs, reduce healthcare outcomes and are operationally inefficient systems.

Blockchain technology can be transformative in helping achieve three essential goals here-

  1. Security
  2. Privacy
  3. Integration

Blockchain offers the possibility of a new technological model called Health Information Exchange that makes electronic medical records efficient and safe while eliminating the cost and friction of operational intermediaries.

HIE data can include-

  • Electronic health records
  • Patient health information
  • Medical insurance claims
  • Data from IoT or monitoring systems
  • E-prescriptions
  • Secure messages

HIE can implement a permissioned distributed ledger with smart contracts where all participating stakeholders- patients, providers, pharmacies, pathological labs, NGOs, and governments- can participate in the seamless and secure exchange of data.

How Blockchain Empowers Patients with Data Privacy and Security

With blockchain, owners of the information, the patients, stay in charge of data sharing and manage the granularity of the access, determining which data can be accessed by whom, for how long and when access is revoked.

With HIE, even if the information is agreed for sharing with third parties, users have control over it.

Cybersecurity is a looming challenge for healthcare organizations. Risk Based Security identified 1,767 publicly reported data breaches between January and June 2021, where 18.8 billion records were compromised. The report confirms that the healthcare industry continues to be a target for cyberattacks, including ransomware attacks.

Blockchain offers a solution by decentralization of domain name system entries. Blockchain eliminates any vulnerable singular targets often exploited by malicious actors through decentralized solutions.

Related Reading: How has the COVID-19 Pandemic Accelerated Blockchain

Benefits of Blockchain in Healthcare

Collaboration

Blockchain-powered tools are helping combat the pandemic. For instance, an identity management system for contact tracing was implemented in South Korea. Systems to support data sharing and software code collaboration for research purposes are also coming around.

Blockchain has also met challenges in supply chain management for medical supplies, medications and future vaccines. For instance, IBM announced a blockchain-enabled network called IBM Rapid Supplier Connect to bridge healthcare organizations and non-traditional suppliers of equipment, supplies, and devices to fight COVID-19.

Accuracy & Traceability

In areas where information sharing is vital, but trust issues are a hindrance, blockchain can help. Blockchain technology improves data availability at each stage and ensures it is accurate through its inherent immutability feature.

Another benefit is the traceability of supplies within an ecosystem. For instance, manufacturers can track products from dispatch through delivery using blockchain. Such applications can have a prolific impact on health outcomes, especially during a critical time of a global pandemic.

Cost Saving

Recent findings suggest that healthcare blockchain can help the industry save up to $100 billion in operational, personnel, support, security breaches and IT costs by 2025. The acceleration of development in healthcare rests on the underlying technology.

At KiwiTech, we help startups and enterprises transform their healthcare technology ideas into reality. The healthcare industry is nuanced by laws and regulations. Speak to one of our Blockchain consultants today.


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