How blockchain can change healthcare and life science for the better

The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about blockchain technology is cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the like. While they sure have completely metamorphosed the world of finance, the technology itself goes far beyond just replacing money. Healthcare is one of the most significant sectors that blockchain is expected to transform. Not only can it eradicate most struggles in healthcare to make life better for everyone in the world, but survey projects that the adoption of blockchain can also save the healthcare industry up to $150 billion per year by 2025 in various costs.

What is blockchain technology

In simple terms, “blockchain” is a series of time-stamped “blocks” containing digital information, stored in a public database using cryptographic principles or “chain”. This digital information consists of 3 parts – information about a transaction, information about the participant of that transaction, and special information (hash) which distinguishes every single block from one another.

Features of blockchain that make it so special

The features listed below make blockchain a revolutionary technology with a number of applications in several sectors –

  • Decentralised network:

In a blockchain, independently running clusters of computers, acting on a peer-to-peer basis, manage the records of data. No central authority has control over it, making this data purely decentralised, and intermediary-free.

  • Distributed ledger:

A “block”, before being added to the “chain”, is verified by potentially millions of computers distributed around the network. So any transaction, while being added to the blockchain, goes through a good deal of validation process; which makes it more trustworthy than regular transactions.

  • Security and privacy:

Each user with access to a blockchain is issued two cryptographic keys  — private and public. The public key is exposed to all users in the network for verifying request details and other work. However, this public information only shows the private key of the user, which hides the identity of each with unique obfuscations called “digital signatures”. This cryptographic security of user access makes it almost impossible for identities to be hacked and data to be compromised.

  • Immutability:

Blockchain only supports “create” and “read” functions – meaning once data is stored in a blockchain, it cannot be altered without leaving a trace. If data in one block changes, data in all the previous as well as the subsequent blocks change which alerts the network; enhancing the immutability of the data.

  • Continuous public availability:

Each node point in a blockchain has a copy of the entire history of all transactions, hence all data exist simultaneously in multiple places. So if there is any single point of failure in the process, all the copies on all these computers are updated at the same time and that data also becomes available publicly in the network.

  • Data provenance:

The ownership of a digital asset registered on a blockchain can only be modified by the owner itself. Therefore, the original sources of the assets are traceable and hence are verifiable accurately and are reusable.

How can blockchain in healthcare make lives better

Blockchain and healthcare might sound extreme opposites of each other, but unifying them can be the biggest transformation the healthcare industry urgently needs. We have listed only a few possible applications of the technology in this industry, however, tech pundits predict this synthesis to only grow in the coming years.

Record management

Matching the right patient with the right health record is critical for accurate medical care, yet errors in the same occur often, especially at the time of patient exchange. In fact, investigations show that a lot of hospitals hide critical information while transferring a patient to another hospital to avoid losing on the profit from the patient.

In addition, the data breach is another critical problem in this industry. HIPAA study shows evidence of 230,954,151 healthcare records being compromised in terms of loss, theft, exposure, or impermissible disclosure between 2009 and 2019, at a record rate of 1.4 per day.

Blockchain and healthcare can join forces to resolve this massive struggle against corruption as well as human errors.

  • The healthcare industry can create their own “permissioned blockchain” or “private blockchain” which allows only authorised personnel to access the system, and all the patient data and the transactions are uploaded in the system so no one institute owns it. This will make this data transparent to the whole network and so no one will be able to hide any crucial information.
  • Patient data will be immutable in this system and cannot be altered even by the medical professionals once they are in the records, which will reduce corruption to a good extent.
  • Patient data in a blockchain-based system will be encrypted and can be accessed only with the unique private key for each patient. Therefore, the patient’s privacy will be protected even from everyone in the network.
  • The enhanced security of blockchain will prevent hacking of medical records. Even if the system is infiltrated, patient data cannot be read by a third party, and hence patient records will be safe from thieves.
  • The origin of every record will be clearly registered in the blockchain ledger. This brands their legitimacy and makes them easily verifiable at each point of transaction.
  • By rules of the blockchain network, the data always has a back-up since data is always available on the network. This eliminates the issue of data loss as well.

Pharmaceutical supply chain management

Supply chain management is a big issue in the pharmaceutical industry, globally. According to WHO global surveillance and monitoring survey report 2017, from manufacturing the medicine till the packaging of it, the product passes through many hands via many countries, which makes the supply chain incredibly complex. This only increases the chances of errors, malpractice, and unethical activities – costing the industry billions of dollars annually.

What is more, drugs are consistently stolen from the supply chain to be sold illegally to various consumers. Blockchain in healthcare can solve this whole trouble.

  • The transactions can be documented at each point in a permanent, decentralized, and shareable format. This will greatly decrease delays, waste, and human errors as well as track the fair trade status of the products throughout the supply chain.
  • The full history of the product delivery, including any sign of tampering, inadequate handling, or servicing, can be detected in a blockchain. This way, the sources along with the authentication of the products can be traced.

Using blockchain-powered smart contracts

  • What are smart contracts:

A smart contract is practically the digital equivalent of legal contracts. It is a self-enforcing software managed by a p2p network of computers that facilitate, verify, or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract.

When a blockchain-enabled smart contract is used, transactions between the nodes are only triggered when all the conditions are met and this is verified digitally by a cluster of independent computers with no human help. Since blockchain is decentralised like this, it cuts off the intermediary which reduces the possibility of corruption and human error, along with making the entire procedure much faster, cheaper, and much more secure than regular contracts.

  • How can blockchain-based smart contracts help in healthcare:

Making the collaboration between blockchain and healthcare with the utilisation of smart contracts can be a terrific method to resolve a number of problems in this industry-

  • Insurance: The use of blockchain-enabled smart contracts for insurance documents will remove the intermediary and claims can be processed in real-time and in a transparent manner. Any frauds will be readily detected and patient information will be private, together with being theft and tamper-proof.
  • Health surveillance: Blockchain in Australia can build a robust, transparent, and borderless health surveillance solution where the local and national health agencies and institutions will be able to access surveillance data in real-time without compromising any security and regulatory guidelines. This would also improve clinical care coordination as well as care in emergency medical situations. What is more, this data can be shared internationally quickly and securely, which will get help to people from all over the world much faster than the current system.
  • Recruitment: Under the current system, hiring new staff is a lengthy procedure. It takes about six months to verify all credentials, especially if the staff needs to arrive from overseas. Smart contracts can close this gap to less than a month. The candidates can securely upload their private documents on a blockchain-powered platform like this, providing them with a form of portable credentials; and the recruiters can easily verify them against the source.
  • Medical research: Blockchain-based smart contracts can create an enhanced data sharing and analysis platform where various institutions around the world can share medical information and research data with other institutions while keeping full control of their own resources. The verification of the origins and time-stamps on these data becomes easier, ensuring their accuracy and reliability. The adherence to the much necessary HIPAA laws for all such research can also be confirmed.

Conclusion

The superior quality of blockchain has driven a number of companies around the world to already incorporate this technology in healthcare. Even though at present there are a few limitations in the methodology, they are predicted to be resolved very soon and Blockchain  Australia can assist in the process of creating a new, secure, less corrupt and better-managed society with the help of this technology.