In troubled times that follow a pandemic, almost all nations are forced to take stock of the gaps present in their healthcare systems. From insufficient testing and record high billings to the ambiguity regarding clinical trials and substandard patient care, healthcare stakeholders are faced with immense pressure to exercise control and simultaneously proffer quality care to patients. New age technologies like blockchain contain within themselves considerable potential to convert healthcare into a commercial and administrative success. In this article, the author attempts to unpack the various ways in which the same can be transformed into a reality.
For those of us who might have been living under a rock, let’s first attempt to understand the most disruptive technology today that has taken the world by a storm, i.e. the blockchain. Simply put, it’s a distributed ledger that essentially assists in tracking permissioned transactions and events to such transactions across a network. Essentially, it is a decentralised, secure database. So what is it that makes blockchain so special and different from your average run of the mill data warehouse?
The most advantageous feature of the technology resides in that fact that it prevents any tampering or changes to any piece of information (or any previous entry) once it has been applied to the distributed ledger making the entire process extremely secure. The same is hacker proof too since anyone attempting to access any single block would also need to penetrate every other block in the chronology of the blockchain. Additional to the benefit of transparency in every transaction, considerable immutability of data exists as no retroactive changes can be made to entries of the blockchain. It supports consensus building wherein different individuals can maintain the copies of the ledger, so everyone has access and agrees to the entries being added. Very significantly, the same circumvents the requirement of a centralised single entity regulating the flow of information. It employs cryptographic techniques, which permits every participant in the network to interact without pre-existing confidence between parties, with respect to storing and exchanging information Finally, all of this wholly evades the need of financial third parties stakeholders like banks by allowing peer to peer transactions considerably lessening the expenses involved.
Scope of Blockchain in Healthcare
Blockchain applications have gained traction as a key instrument in attempting to resolve archaic quandaries in the healthcare industry that have resulted in improvident expenses and overall extravagant costs for patients, providers, and insurers. Expected to provide solution to issues ranging from health data exchange and identity management to drug supply chain, from insurance to personalized medicine, some of the ways blockchain can alleviate health care industry concerns are discussed as follows:
Mitigating Medical Error
According to studies, medical error stands third as the leading cause of death in countries like US. This happens for a myriad of reasons including lack of transparency, separation of medical records between medical institutions and incapacity of healthcare systems in securely indulging in data sharing. As one of the most transparent technologies, blockchain can alleviate this concern by time stamping each transaction for the benefit of the parties involved. The motive revolves around the patient exercising the control on the transfer of his own medical records from one physician to another. Further, the same also provides for reducing the complication in transfer of patient records among health care systems not just nationally but trans boundary. In 2017, the US FDA partnered with IBM Watson to build a safe exchange of medical record data utilizing blockchain.
Improving Doctor Patient Communication
Patients can regulate their own medical records and grant predetermined doctors access to the same, all the while exercising a standard of control. Additionally, the immutable data isn’t breached of its integrity maintaining a secure database of the patient’s confidential medical records. Telemedicine communication in connection with blockchain can also ensure online consultation with physicians.
Prevention of Diseases
With medical research, real time reporting of disease outbreak, feature of time stamping facilitated by blockchain technology, the detection, research and development into coming up with cures and vaccinations and prevention of the same in future is another avenue made possible through distributed ledger technology (DLT). In 2019, the Centres for Disease Control & Prevention, referred to as CDC collaborated with IBM to develop a surveillance technology that aided public agencies in amassing information concerned to patients and medicine in a effective manner.
Avoiding Fraudulent Healthcare Cost
It’s been estimated that Medicare scam in a year amounts to a whopping $30 million in loss which accounts for nearly 8% of the total healthcare cost being fraudulent. With blockchain avoiding financial third parties like banks wholly and negligible costing due to absence of intermediaries, the administration expenses are slashed to basics with respect to claims, payments, and processing time.
Supply Chain Integrity
Having established itself as one of the most lucrative businesses, health care industry still finds itself in want of authenticity in documentation and integrity, with over a couple hundred billion dollars being lost in counterfeit drugs. Simplistic and traceable design of the blockchain can be extended to the drugs supply chain of healthcare industry in order to zero down on suspicious activities, suspicious and bad actors attempting to tamper the supply chain integrity. With changes made to the chain being evident to everyone with access to the chain within seconds in real time, concerned parties will be able to access information about the drug from its manufacture up to delivery. The usage of barcodes can further aid the management and tracking of drug inventory. In 2016, MediLedgerinitiated by Chronicled, blockchain project attempted to check supply chains for counterfeits and consonance with state regulations.
Blockchain technology is being utilized and remodeled according to the healthcare industry requirements through studies and healthcare data, ensuring involved parties and stakeholders such as doctors, pharmacists, clinical researchers and other healthcare providers a safe, speedy, simplistic, confidential and inexpensive access to electronic medical information. The advantages of blockchain are undeniable and persuasive indicating steps towards the right direction with more and more healthcare systems assessing how blockchain technology can influence and streamline their operations. Its prospective benefits are sure to expand as blockchain in healthcare industry inches nearer to a commercial reality.
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