Blockchain technology for the healthcare industry
I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “Blockchain”, especially if you’re a crypto enthusiast. You were probably surprised by all the hype about this revolutionary invention that was launched in 2008 by an anonymous person/group with the name Satoshi Nakamoto.
With the rise of cryptocurrencies, Blockchain, or as some may call it the “next internet”, got the spotlight in the tech world. But is that the only domain that Blockchain may take to the next level? Another example that deserves just as much hype as cryptocurrencies: Healthcare. How and why?
Before digging deeper, let’s take an overview of blockchain technology.
So what is blockchain?
Block: is the information that’s stocked in the digital form (data). A block can store any type of information be it: dates, transaction history, money, numbers, … anything.
So blockchain is a specific type of database, it stores data in blocks that are chained together, in other words, it’s a series of immutable blocks chained to each other. It’s a decentralized (with no central authority) distributed record-keeping system that’s responsible for data management.
When new data enters the system, means when a transaction that took place gets publicly verified, it’s stored into a fresh block. The moment the block is filled with data, it gets chained to the previous block, which assures the chronological order of the chain. Each block gets a unique ID code, before joining the chain of blocks, assigned by the nonce, and it’s called a hash. Blocks are immutable with specific storage capacities, so any new data that follows after the block is filled will be stored into a newly formed block that will be added to the chain once it’s filled too.
Blockchain doesn’t need a central location to store any data because every computer in the network has a copy of the Blockchain and every time a new block joins, the whole network gets updated.
Blockchain: a solution for multiple digital challenges
You’re definitely still wondering about the reason behind all the hype around Blockchain. Well, it’s all in its mechanism that managed to solve many digital challenges. Since the transaction is recorded and verified publicly before being added to the block, this assures the transparency of the chain. Also, once all the data enters the system, no one is able to modify it, not even the system administrator because the blocks are immutable and that proves that the data is genuine and preserved. And since, as mentioned before, Blockchain being a decentralized system, it offers high security and safe from hacking attempts.
We’re not done yet, Blockchain has more in store to offer. Not only is the data secured and away from any alteration, but blockchain also reduces transaction costs by granting P2P (peer-to-peer) transactions, which eliminates middlemen including banks, and keeps it between two parties.
Last but not least, Blockchain offers new business models a remarkable platform to grow their innovative self and the chance to compete with other businesses.
Why the hype about Blockchain for the health care industry?
There is no denying that the healthcare sector is a priority. And with the Electronic Health Records and Personal Health Records having security, access, and cost issues, the health services administration found in Blockchain the suitable solutions to all of these problems. That’s why the value of Blockchain technology in health care solutions is expected to jump up in 2024 with an income of approximately $1415.59 million.
The reasons why Blockchain is crucial to healthcare are:
- As explained earlier, Blockchain is hack proof thanks to it being a decentralized system, so it provides the high security needed for healthcare records that must be confidential. Plus providing a secure digital environment by eliminating the dangers that could be either man-made (hacking, deleting, modification, …) or caused by natural disasters that could affect the hospital records. Besides, such a system saves power that could be useful for researchers to discover new cures and treatments for incurable diseases or drugs for disorders.
- The mechanism of Blockchain assures that every transaction gets publicly (by the majority of the network participants) confirmed before being stored into the block and once stored no alternation is allowed which assures that the information is 100% trustworthy and that allows researches in the healthcare field to study a specific group of people through a huge amount of confidential information from their medical and personal records. As a consequence, it encourages longitudinal studies that specialize in medicine development for effective treatments.
- Blockchain could be very useful for patients with regular updates to their medical records like blood pressure and sugar level. With the help of IoT, doctors would be able to monitor such patients 24/7 to alert them or caretakers that the patient is unstable.
- As a patient, you would like to be in control over your data means you get to choose to whom you grant access to your records and when. Blockchain grants you this wish. And with the development of healthcare apps like the recent doctor-patient app by integrating the Blockchain technology, the healthcare provider, if granted access, is able to provide his patients with better healthcare guidance through keeping track of the patient’s health record that gets updated every time a new piece of information enters the system. And lastly, through the app, the payment is transmitted to the provider. This whole process of doctor-patient contact is called “Smart Contracts”.
- Not only is Blockchain the best in terms of cost-effectiveness since it’s a P2P system in transferring and fetching data, but it also gives you as a patient an opportunity to receive micro-payments of digital currency in exchange for granting permission to researchers to make use of your records for their studies.
- Blockchain is a great way to manage drug supplies. The immutability of the healthcare supply chain enables the manufacturers to monitor the drug’s ingredients and check if they fit the medical standards.
- One of the main reasons for the hype around Blockchain is its potential to create new business models. Applying that to the healthcare sector, Pharma companies get to customize their numerous products and treatments for the patients, pharmacies’ jobs will become easier when it comes to patients’ guidance about medicine and drug consuming and finally healthcare professionals can once granted access, to watch over their patients’ conditions through their records as explained previously.
- With the vaccine for Covid rollout and regardless of where each vaccine was administered, the Blockchain system not only provides healthcare records with the correct given dosage but also serves as a passport to public places and transport.
Blockchain technology future in the Healthcare sector: what are the challenges it’s facing?
The healthcare sector has been making use of Blockchain’s cluster of capabilities because it solved many digital issues and provided a great platform for healthcare administration and staff and also patients. But is it easy to execute a new technology like Blockchain in a large-scale field like healthcare?
Unfortunately, the answer is a NO. Blockchain still faces few challenges like:
- Until today, there isn’t a successful startup that worked on Blockchain for healthcare nor a successful application of this technology apart from cryptocurrencies, which is how a feeling of uncertainty was born.
- Being a new technology, there isn’t a reliable estimation for the total cost of establishment and maintenance of it, which is a big take-another-road flag for companies and firms that could consider Blockchain.
- The application of Blockchain in the healthcare industry still lacks a protocol that would set new rules and regulations and work on incorporating this protocol with the privacy regulations HIPAA.
- We’ve already established that Blockchain in the healthcare field is used to store medical records and lab reports. However, with each member having his own copy of data, problems arise with the storage capacity with the possibility that all these files and documents exceed the limit.
All these issues and challenges may hinder the healthcare industry from providing better health services unless solved in the future.
Blockchain is a new technology that stole the spotlight with the rise of cryptocurrencies. This technology provides solutions for age-old digital challenges the Healthcare industry has been facing and helps improve the healthcare service quality. But with the issues remaining, doubt clouds the Blockchain technology future in the Healthcare field.