How to make the best use of blockchain technology within healthcare.

By: Rebecca Clinton-Floyed

23, April, 2019

Categories:

Blockchain -

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In the words of Don & Alex Tapscott, authors of Blockchain Revolution (2016), “The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions, but virtually everything of value.[1]

The aforementioned citation is very much true to its meaning and debunks the idea of blockchain only benefitting finance — which is quite a cliché now. On the contrary, many industries today are either considering or in the process of adopting the blockchain technology to innovate their business model and the way they function. The healthcare industry is one of those sectors currently looking to embrace blockchain.

Let us find out how blockchain can add value to the healthcare industry.

Blockchain can establish trust

The first benefit from blockchain the healthcare industry will see is building the ‘trust’ factor in the business.

According to Michał Chatłas, a software developer at Poland-based Espeo Software, the blockchain technology is useful in certain industries where people cannot rely on one another. He says: “By design, blockchains establish trust through cryptography. Parties don’t have to trust each other or third parties.” [2]

There are many strong use cases across industries where smart contracts can help in data verification.

Following are examples of some start-ups that have already started implementing blockchain into their operations to tackle challenges involved in healthcare data management.

  • California-based PokitDok’s blockchain platform DokChain intends to allow data exchange across the healthcare sector

  • London-based MedicalChain’s blockchain platform securely stores patients’ health records and maintain a single version of the truth. These patients are allowed to regulate access to their medical histories
  • Another Californian blockchain-based healthcare business, Mediledger, does tracking and verification of medicines in exactly the same way food is traced in the supply chain

Distributed database

Bringing all healthcare-focused organisations on one platform eases some of the industry’s pain points, and distributed ledger technology does exactly that. It helps in storing patient data in all the nodes of a blockchain platform, which then allows patients, hospitals and insurance companies to access medical records. Implementing blockchain-based healthcare applications significantly reduces timing and tracking down information across a network of systems.

Hacking valuable health data from healthcare institutions is on a rise. Recently, in the US, the Minnesota Department of Human Services informed individuals that their data was potentially hacked by a cyberattack on its email systems. This was the third time in a row when the state government office announced cyberattack on its systems. [3] In another incident, Indian IT firm Wipro reported a phishing attack on its computer systems. [4]

Presently, centralised databases are used to record patient data. How safe these databases are and who has access to them are the questions that remain unanswered. This is where blockchain-based platforms play a crucial role by acting as security guards.

Blockchain can provide useful tools for managing and controlling access to databases and help decide who should and who should not have permission to access patient data.

Maintaining healthcare data confidentiality

Maintaining confidential medical data on a fully auditable, transparent ledger increases privacy issues.  Because of this, whoever has access to these patient records would become a point of weakness. Though they would require consent to make changes to the entries, anybody who is accessing the ledger is able to see the entries. This raises concern as accessing the details of when and where a transaction took place could cause major problems for medical confidentiality.

Consider abortion as an example. In countries where feticide is prohibited irrespective of the location where the procedure happened, investigators can easily find it out. Even if the procedure is legal in certain nations, cyber-attackers are still able to use the data for baleful activities. This is why encrypting data is important and blockchain can help a lot in this.

Open source blockchain platforms like Corda and Hyperledger are ideal for the healthcare sector. These permissioned blockchains allow organisations to regulate access permissions.

Point to remember

It is important to keep in mind that blockchain is just a tool, which still requires supervision and ethical guidelines. Deciding who can have access and for how long, is important in healthcare data management. Permitting healthcare professionals to gain quick and easy access to this data, along with controlling distribution is one of the technology’s setbacks.

There are possibilities of recording misdiagnosis and entering incorrect data in the ledger, but there is nothing to worry about, as the data is still accessible in one place. Maintaining data integrity is one important feature of blockchain, which will greatly help the healthcare sector in data management process.

Moreover, unapproved editing or omission cannot happen without a timestamp.

Key takeaway: Blockchain is surely a disruptive and effective technology that will help healthcare organisations prevent data breaches at large.

Explore more by attending the Blockchain Expo Global event @ London Olympia 25-26th April.

Blockchain Expo Europe will also take place at RAI, Amsterdam on 19-20 June 2019. Blockchain Expo North America will take place at the Santa Clara Convention Center in the heart of Silicon Valley on 13-14 November 2019.

Blockchain Expo Europe will also take place at RAI, Amsterdam on 19-20 June 2019. Blockchain Expo North America will take place at the Santa Clara Convention Center in the heart of Silicon Valley on 13-14 November 2019.

References:

[1]

https://blockgeeks.com/guides/blockchain-in-healthcare/

[2]

[3]

https://healthitsecurity.com/news/minnesota-dhs-reports-health-data-breach-from-2018-email-hack

[4]

https://www.livemint.com/companies/news/wipro-confirms-data-breach-ahead-of-its-q4-results-today-1555397106230.html