Blockchain and Healthcare in Today’s World
Blockchain and Healthcare in Today’s World
Want to learn more about how blockchain has the potential to transform healthcare and patient data? Check out this post to learn more!
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
As blockchain grows into maturity, more and more industries are finding uses for this peculiar technology. Industries, where data preservation or privacy are important, have so far shown the most interest in this, for reasons that should be obvious. And among those industries, one that is expected to be revolutionized by blockchain is the healthcare industry.
To explain why blockchain could mark such a boon for the industry, it might be important to remember why blockchain opens an era for data-based companies. The technology is based on a distributed chain, made up of records known as blocks. Each of the participants in the system holds a copy of the chain and all its records, and each time any participant adds new data to the chain its integrity is validated by the other participants, making editing data in it impossible without leaving a trace.
An Industry Touchstone
The healthcare industry, as it turns out, might be the one industry in the world that needs this technology the most, even if they didn’t quite know it until recently. This is because the healthcare industry needs all the features blockchain provides: security, traceable changes, and privacy. And, as if that wasn’t enough, it could also do with a distributed system.
The first of the requirements, security and privacy, are both social and legal requirements for healthcare. While patient privacy wasn’t an important part of health care services, in recent years, privacy on all levels has become a huge worry among the population, and something as delicate as one’s own health or medical history takes the lead.
After all, many an unscrupulous company could attempt to make millions out of selling people’s medical history and said the information could be used, for example, to discriminate against applicants for employment based on this.
Blockchain can help with this. Since the data in the chain is encrypted, all medical data hosted on a blockchain-based system would be unintelligible for anyone but the patients and doctors with permission to access it. The data would be distributed, but it would be impossible to access it without credentials, thus making said data both safe and impossible to lose.
There’s more that blockchain can offer to the healthcare business, however. The traceable changes and the fact that any change or addendum to the blockchain — in this case, a patient’s medical data — leave a trace is notable. This means that patient records can’t be tampered with in any way without somebody noticing. It also means, perhaps more importantly, that no data can ever be lost or overlooked.
Since all data is hosted on the blockchain, there’s no risk of an exam’s results getting lost or the contents of a folder becoming impossible to decipher after a long time. The risk of a natural disaster wiping the hospital’s records no longer exists, as the blockchain data would be hosted in hundreds, if not thousands, of computers online.
This leads us to the third, and perhaps for the regular patient the most amazing, possible use of blockchain for healthcare is distributed data. One of blockchain’s technology main features, as before stated, is that all its data is present not in one, but in potentially thousands, or millions, of computers at any time. What this might mean for a patient is that, with a blockchain-based records system, they could access their medical data anytime, anywhere.
Remote access is important because when a patient switches medical providers, the process of receiving their medical history can be cumbersome. Just as well, when a patient decides to buy prescription-only medications from a different provider, they need their records, or at least their prescriptions, transferred again.
Heralding a New Era
With blockchain, a patient’s info could be accessed from anywhere without needing to request medical data from any institutions if the patient grants the provider said access. Moreover, all the patient’s medical data would always be up-to-date, and a doctor would immediately know not only the patient’s full history but also their status – including any medications they might be taking that could interfere with a treatment or causing whatever illness the patient might suffer.
This could also be applied to medication dispensing. Prescription-only medications are, at times, problematic because many of them can be used for illegal purposes, and it is not unheard of for a patient to find ways to fill their medication in several places to get ahold of as many pills as possible. With a blockchain-based system, holding the patient’s medical records and prescriptions are easily monitored.
Access to medical history would become effectively impossible unless the pharmacist was in league with the patient. Every single active prescription a patient holds would be kept in this system, along with when said prescription was last filled and by whom, thus making prescription fraud almost impossible.
The key to all of this, of course, would be privacy. On a blockchain-based medical system, the patient would hold the only key to access their data, since it would all be encrypted. It would be safe and impossible to tamper with, but also impossible to access without the patient’s permission. This would help curve insurance fraud and identity theft, as besides stealing somebody’s identity data they’d need the key to access their medical records.
There’s one last use that blockchain could give the medical world. One of the main uses of blockchain today is contracts: any agreement between parts can be recorded in the chain, thus leaving a trace of what was agreed to, when, and by whom. With all patient consent kept in the blockchain as a smart contract, many a malpractice lawsuit could be settled quite easily, as law enforcement could know exactly what was agreed to.
There are other possible uses, and currently, different companies are trying to capitalize on blockchain’s boom to start providing services for the healthcare world. Some of the proposals go even further, as far as using cryptocurrencies as a means of paying for medical services and enforcing smart contracts between parties. While these extra proposals might or might not work, and while even some of the proposals outlined might not come to fruition anytime soon, the path is assured. There’s no denying that the healthcare industry is one that stands to better itself in a major way as blockchain technologies further enter the mainstream and our daily lives.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.