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Blockchain technology applications in healthcare

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This article will explore how blockchain technology applications have been driving value across the healthcare industry

Blockchain technology has been gradually disrupting business sectors over the last few years, bringing strong data security for all assets stored on its infrastructure. No longer solely the realm of crypto, blockchain is now being utilised by healthcare providers, keeping patient records protected and bolstering collaboration. In this article, we take a closer look at the key blockchain technology applications in healthcare today.

Health information exchanges

Many health authorities have introduced the concept of Health Information Exchanges (HIEs), to enable patients, doctors, and other staff to securely access and digitally share medical information with each other. This can not only improve speed, quality, and safety of patient care, but also deliver a reduction in costs.

While complexities around security and privacy, along with inefficiencies brought by legacy healthcare infrastructure, have often made secure data transfer difficult, the decentralised nature of blockchain prevents individuals from tampering with assets.

“Blockchain technology is essentially a digital ledger or database for recording information. It is extremely difficult to alter, cheat or hack, and it is already changing digital world concepts such as ownership, privacy, trust and collaboration,” said Jonas Lundqvist, CEO of private blockchain provider, Haidrun.

“Although the mechanics of blockchain are extremely complex, the concept is straightforward enough: to decentralise data storage so that it cannot be controlled or manipulated by a single actor. Records or transactions are verified using an advanced consensus algorithm, and then cryptographically sealed into data blocks, to provide a time-stamped and immutable, single version of the truth.

“With certain types of blockchain, data access can be limited by the patient who can then chose to share relevant parts of their personal information with providers. In this way, a potential hacker cannot simply use a single patient’s private key to access broad sets of data. Instead, the bad actor would need to steal multiple users’ private keys to obtain any significant volume of valuable information. All users within one blockchain can keep their own copy of the ledger or database.”

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Utilisation of multiple systems

Healthcare organisations are increasingly making use of various systems to host patient data. While this can become complex to manage as the amount of records grow, blockchain is capable of smoothening and protecting the process of finding and making use of information.

Giang Tran, founding director of akaChain at FPT Software, explained: “One’s medical record and other sensitive information can be stored on the blockchain, preventing any 3rd party from tampering with the data, as well as misusing it. However, as blockchain is expensive, an organisation applying blockchain to healthcare should be selective on the type of information stored on the blockchain.

“To facilitate better health outcomes for patients, sharing medical records amongst different health systems is becoming popular. However, the question of transparency, privacy, and interoperability still looms large.

“A dominant blockchain protocol can help solve the problem. Through the joint effort of establishing an industry standard, blockchain can help preserve privacy, as well as facilitate the joint coordination amongst health systems at an affordable cost, hence, improving health outcomes.”

Blockchain and IoMT

Blockchain technology applications in healthcare are also being bolstered by the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), a space that connects the vast array of devices being used in the sector. Allowing for faster collection of patient data at scale, the infrastructure, combined with blockchain, is capable of delivering real-time management of that data.

“As IoMT becomes more common and telehealth gains ground, healthcare is transitioning to a care continuum for all the right reasons,” said Sudhir Pai, chief technology & innovation officer at Capgemini Financial Services.

“For instance, a typical care management process entails more than 15 states or handoffs, often involving plays related to not just the care managers or providers but also community resources. Blockchain supported by IoMT could enable the smart contracts amongst these stakeholders that are diverse, and could potentially assist in real time care remotely.

“Medical management has been leveraging AI to detect next best actions but the true collaboration in care giving needs to be supported by a technology like blockchain. The Metaverse would obviously be the next summit in this journey.”

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Barriers to overcome

While many developments have been undertaken using blockchain in healthcare, with successful results, research shows that there are still barriers for doctors, clinicians and other staff to overcome before they can realise the technology’s full potential.

John Wise, consultant at Pistoia Alliance, expanded on Pistoia’s recent findings from activity within healthcare organisations: “Over the past five years, we’ve seen a growing awareness of the scope for blockchain in healthcare. Our member surveys have seen awareness of blockchain among industry professionals increase year on year.

“However, there are still barriers to mass adoption of blockchain in healthcare. Almost a third (30%) of pharmaceutical professionals we surveyed cited a lack of access to people with relevant skills as a barrier, along with an absence of blockchain standards (19%) and a lack of interoperability (17%).

“The key to overcoming these hurdles and driving adoption is collaboration. No matter how powerful blockchain becomes, the industry will face challenges until we improve the quality of information shared across organisations. Education is also crucial. To take advantage of the technology in healthcare, we have to educate the next generation of blockchain experts.”

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