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The introduction of computer technology in the healthcare sector was promised to bring a qualitative change to patient care. While in many ways there was a bump in the service they received, patients should have experienced higher value across the board. Sadly, the reality was quite different.
The following are two examples where technology in healthcare is yet to fulfill its true potential:
“Remote Patient Monitoring” (RMP)
The following facts illustrate how the potential of RMP is yet to be fulfilled:
- RMP should have enabled healthcare delivery to transition from episodic care to preventive care. Proactive monitoring of patients using “Internet of Things” (IoT)-enabled devices should have made this possible.
- The market for RMP is predicted to surpass $535 million in the US. Read this Statista report for more details.
- However, the reality is different! RMP requires accuracy of data, and no hacker should be able to tamper with this sensitive health data. That’s hard to achieve with existing solutions.
- It’s also hard to secure the transmission of RMP data over the internet to healthcare providers. Read about the challenges that impede the growth of RMP in “Three challenges to remote patient monitoring”.
“Electronic Medical Records” (EMRs)
Decades ago, EMRs emerged with significant promises, for e.g.:
- EMRs record patient data in electronic format, which should have reduced paper-based processes.
- This should have enabled multiple healthcare providers to seamlessly access patient data. We had expected this to improve healthcare service delivery noticeably.
In reality, concerns remain over storing EMRs on the centralized servers of healthcare providers. EMRs contain “Protected Health Information” (PHI), and hackers make a lot of money if they can get their hands on EMRS. Read more about this challenge in “Hackers don’t want your credit card. They want your medical records”.
Can blockchain make a difference to healthcare?
If you see the above examples, tamper-proofing of data and secure transmission of information stand out as the key challenges. Blockchain can help here, and let’s examine how:
- Blockchain is a “Peer-to-Peer” (P2P) network, and public blockchains are fully open, i.e., anyone can join the network. Private blockchain networks have permissioned access.
- Computers on this network are called “Nodes”, and in a public blockchain network, every node has equal authority. Such networks don’t need a central server to administer it.
- Each node in a public blockchain also has the entire ledger transaction information. Effectively, each node operates as a complete ledger. This is why blockchain is called “Distributed Ledger Technology”.
- Hackers can’t take this network down by hijacking just one server since other servers will still maintain the network. This reduces the likelihood of hackers attempting to attack the network.
- Blockchain also uses key security features like digital signatures, data encryption, cryptographic hash functions, and consensus algorithms. These help in maintaining tamper-proof data.
- Furthermore, blockchain networks like Ethereum, NEO, etc. use smart contracts, which are autonomous pieces of code. They are tamper-proof, and they transfer cryptographic assets based on predefined conditions. They are transparent, while their execution is irreversible. Smart contracts can significantly improve contract administration and management.
You can read more about how blockchain works in “How to build your own blockchain using Node.js”. As you can see, tamper-proofing and security are some of the strong points of blockchain, making it potentially important for healthcare.
Healthcare blockchain business ideas with transformative potential
We will now look at blockchain medical ideas that can make a difference in healthcare service delivery.
1. Use blockchain in “Remote Patient Monitoring” (RMP)
RMP uses IoT-enabled devices like wearables. Such devices collect patient health data, and they can stream that to healthcare providers. RMP can deliver several benefits, e.g.:
- Proactive monitoring of health data enables more effective tracking of patient health.
- Patients don’t need to manually provide health status to healthcare providers since IoT-enabled devices automatically stream the data.
- RPM enables patients to take responsibility for their health, since the can now be armed with their own health data.
Read “Remote health care is the future of medicine” to know more about RMP.
However, as I have explained earlier, RMP depends heavily on IoT. Maintaining data integrity is a challenge. All communications by IoT-enabled devices happen over the Internet, and secure communication is hard to achieve.
I have earlier explained the potential of blockchain in RMP in “How blockchain will revolutionize remote healthcare?”. A group of Cornell University researchers has implemented a blockchain solution catered to RMP. The following is a quick summary of their solution:
- The team has used two blockchains in their “Proof of Concept” (PoC).
- One is a private blockchain. This requires permission to join, therefore, it’s possible to implement access control for sensitive data. Read “Public vs private (permissioned) blockchain comparison” to learn more about private blockchains.
- RMP devices collect PHI, which needs protection, therefore, a private blockchain is the right choice in this case.
- Smart contracts on this private blockchain analyze patient health data.
- Other smart contracts generate alerts based on certain thresholds.
- Subsequently, a public blockchain makes these alerts available to healthcare service providers.
Note: Public blockchains lack scalability due to their computing-intensive consensus algorithms. This is a challenge in the IoT context since IoT applications use millions of IoT-enabled devices. A blockchain-like technology called “Directed Acyclic Graph” (DAG) addresses this challenge by eliminating computing-intensive consensus algorithms. In this PoC, Cornell University researchers have used DAG to address the scalability aspect.
You can read more about this PoC in “Automated remote patient monitoring: Data sharing and privacy using blockchain”.
2. Transformation of “Electronic Medical Record” (EMR) systems using blockchain
EMRs can noticeably improve healthcare service delivery in the following ways:
- Doctors and other healthcare providers can collect patients’ medical records in electronic format, which is far more portable than paper-based records.
- Collection of the medical history of patients over a long period of time becomes easier with EMRs.
- Many healthcare providers can seamlessly access EMRs to deliver care to patients more efficiently.
Read more about EMRs in “What is EMR?”.
However, as I have explained in “How can blockchain keep medical records secure?”, there are impediments to widespread adoption of EMRs, as follows:
- EMR systems are complex.
- “User Interfaces” (UIs) and workflows in EMR systems need improvement.
- Healthcare providers store EMRs in their central servers, and these are easy and lucrative targets of hackers. EMRs contain PHI, and securing them assumes utmost importance.
Now, let’s see how Medicalchain, one of the several blockchain healthcare startups is addressing the security of EMRs using blockchain. The solution from Medicalchain works as follows:
- The company uses two blockchains, one is private and the other one is public.
- To secure EMRs, Medicalchain uses Hyperledger Fabric, an enterprise blockchain.
- Hyperledger Fabric, or Fabric as we commonly call it, is a permissioned blockchain with access control. Fabric features separate channels for confidential data, high scalability, and additional hardware security for digital signatures. Read more about Fabric in “Pros and cons of Hyperledger Fabric for blockchain networks”.
- For the public blockchain, Medicalchain uses Ethereum.
- Medicalchain has its own MedToken (MTN) cryptographic token to facilitate user access to their network.
- Fabric protects EMRs, while the Ethereum-based app allows seamless access to authorized stakeholders such as patients and healthcare providers.
I have explained securing EMRs with blockchain in “How to build an electronic medical record secured by blockchain?”.
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3. Improving health insurance records and reporting with blockchain
Health insurance is an important component of the healthcare landscape, even more so with the rising cost of healthcare. However, health insurance is also a very complex area, due to the following reasons:
- By its very nature, health insurance deals with a large number of stakeholders, such as employers, healthcare providers, health insurance companies, and regulators. Wait! How did I forget the patient? Well, health insurance is so complex that amazing patients aren’t actually at the center of it!
- Such complexity invariably produces disparate application systems that don’t talk to each other efficiently.
- Too many application systems carrying their own version of the truth create a significant amount of inefficiency.
Blockchain with its distributed ledger, transparency, real-time accessibility of information, and tamper-proof records can improve how health insurance works. Read more about it in “Blockchain in healthcare: 6 possible use cases”.
4. Improving drug traceability and safety with blockchain
A globalized economy has made supply chains increasingly complex in every single industry, and the pharmaceutical sector is no exception. Patients have several questions about their prescription drugs, e.g.:
- Are prescription drug retailers buying medicines from legitimate suppliers?
- Do the manufactures of prescription drugs follow the mandated quality processes?
- What is the guaranty that the prescription drugs were not tampered with?
- Did the logistics provider follow the required safeguards?
The pharmaceutical supply chain is perhaps one of the most complex, making it hard to find satisfactory answers to the above questions. Read more about this complexity in “Pharma 2020: Supplying the future”.
Supply chain assurance is a key use case of blockchain. Blockchain-powered pharma supply chain solutions could work as follows:
- A decentralized ledger of blockchain will store the information about every prescription drug.
- This information spans the entire lifecycle of the medicine, i.e., from the lab to the final sales transaction.
- This distributed ledger is immutable, moreover, blockchain makes the entire lifecycle of the drug fully transparent.
Read more about this in “Will healthcare supply chain to be more transparent with this blockchain technology”.
Examples of blockchain healthcare startups working on this use case are as follows:
- Chronicled: The company addresses supply chain assurance using blockchain for several industries, including pharma. Their MediLedger is an open and decentralized network for pharma supply chain assurance.
- Blockpharma: They offer a blockchain-powered solution for pharma supply chain assurance, and to fight drug counterfeiting. Their app lets patients know the entire lifecycle of the medicine they take.
5. Realizing the potential of genomics with blockchain
Genomics has a significant potential to improve healthcare since it can catalyze new breakthroughs in pharmaceutical research. However, the following factors make it hard to realize its potential:
- Processing a human genome was very expensive earlier. For e.g., it cost $1 billion in 2001! Read “Sell your DNA = get tokens. How blockchain is changing genetic research.” for more information. Improved technology has reduced costs, however, it still costs $1,000!
- This high cost is a result of several other factors. The technology is expensive. Genetic research needs a massive amount of data. That’s hard to come by. It requires a large number of DNA test results, however, commoners see no incentives for this test. Typically, healthcare providers sell this data to pharma giants, and consumers gain nothing.
- The available data is highly fragmented.
- It’s also hard to secure a high volume of genetic testing data.
Blockchain can create a marketplace for people to sell their DNA testing data, where they can earn cryptographic tokens as rewards. Blockchain smart contracts will guard against unauthorized access to this data, moreover, blockchain can maintain the confidentiality of data. Read more about this in “15 examples of how blockchain is reviving healthcare”.
Examples of blockchain healthcare startups working in this area are as follows:
- Nebula Genomics: They use blockchain to remove middlemen from the DNA testing process, and this enables users to sell their genetic data securely.
- EncrypGen: EncrypGen offers a blockchain-powered platform that enables searching, sharing, storing and selling of genetic data. Blockchain secures every transaction.
Exploring blockchain medical ideas?
There are many healthcare blockchain business ideas that have significant potential. However, implementing any of these ideas is a complex process.
Blockchain development requires a lot of expertise and planning, so you might want to get professional help. Our guide “What to plan for when undertaking blockchain software development?” can help when it comes to planning your blockchain development projects.
Best of luck with your project!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is blockchain in healthcare?
Blockchain is a database technology that allows decentralized storage and security bonuses like immutability of records. Because of this, many healthcare institutions are looking to blockchain to solve problems existing databases cannot.
How blockchain is used in healthcare?
Blockchain has a number of key applications in healthcare. To start with, it can be used to create personal medical records which can provide anytime and anywhere access to healthcare institutions. For more examples, read this article.
How does blockchain help healthcare?
Blockchain can increase data security, lower operating costs, provide borderless access, as well as offering numerous other advantages which you can read about in this article.