Recently, I had to switch to a new doctor. It seemed like a simple switch that could be accomplished with just a phone call. Little did I know that it is in fact a pain to do. And I am not exaggerating when I say that it took a year to transfer my medical documents. Yes, a full 12 months. From having to call the old doctor’s record keeping office, to giving my approval for sending, and the new office actual receiving the documents, it was a complete headache.
This past week in class when we were discussing blockchain and Estonia’s implementation of the technology, it seemed like a smart solution to a big problem, the healthcare industry. The Wall Street Journal recently stated that the United States “will soon spend close to 20% of its GDP” on healthcare. How could an industry so central to our country’s GDP be completely inefficient and lack such innovation? While blockchain can’t ease the imminent surging healthcare costs, it could hinder several of the problems facing the outdated yet extremely crucial industry. The tamperproof public ledger is crucial to proof of work and the technology is highly resilient. Blockchain technology has the power transform our medical care.
The first way blockchain could be a huge lifesaver is fixing the problem I just mentioned, completely centralizing all medical records. We could compile our medical history from our general practitioner, any specialists, and even our wearable health applications, like data from a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. Every time something in the patient’s medical record changes, a block in the blockchain is added. This would allow for easy access for your medical practitioners to a live, updated version and a complete historical picture of your medical records. In addition, this centralized keeping of medical histories could greatly impact diagnosis in which doctor’s have a 360 profile of the patient including behaviors that impact their health as well as their genetic profile and their responses to different treatments. This idea of “profile stitching” could be seamlessly enabled through blockchain while also ensuring protection of the patient’s identity.
One of the fears of blockchain implementation into healthcare is cybersecurity for secure data. There is a legitimate fear of dating breaching by outsiders looking at patient data that they are not supposed to. However, blockchain does protect against integrity-based attacks, which is falsely editing a patient’s chart that someone has current access to. These attacks account for 40% of current healthcare data breaches. With blockchain in place you will have a complete record to all edits made to a patient’s medical documents, including what was changed, when it was changed, and who changed it. A way to mitigate the security breaches under blockchain technology is to decisively figure out who should and should not have access to each patient’s chart. In order for blockchain technology to be effective in healthcare, the healthcare professionals must be granted access to the complete patient medical history.
This fear of privacy is what leads me to my second point of blockchain integration into healthcare. Each state has different privacy and data regulations. Patients can grant access to whoever they see fit, and the blockchain records patient consent for data sharing. If a party is interested in access for a patient’s medical records, they ask the blockchain for permission, and they are only given access if the patient has approved them.
Incentivization is the idea to maintain patient health by rewarding patients for following care plans. This could be for making and keeping regular appoints or staying healthy. Rewards could be offered through the blockchain’s ability to make micropayments. In addition, patients could also be compensated for sharing medical histories for clinical research and clinical trials. Under blockchain technology, they could remain anonymous and distribute their medical records to medical trials needing data for research purposes.
A current major problem in the pharmaceutical industry is the rise of counterfeit drugs. Approximately 10-30% of drugs in developing countries are fake, which results in US businesses losing up to $200 billion. The major problem with counterfeit drugs in not only the loss in money but the detrimental effects of not using proper drugs. These drugs may result in zero effect or even worse, harmful and dangerous reactions. Blockchain technology could be an efficient solution as all transactions are time stamped and immutable. The drug producer or distributor’s access to the blockchain is proof of authentication. When the drug is moved from manufacturer to retailer, the operational data is recorded on the blockchain, and therefore, it makes it extremely easy to identify the drug of the path.
The Possible Healthcare Revolution
I have just mentioned only a very few number of ways blockchain technology could be implemented into the healthcare industry. There are surely an innumerable number of ways that this technology can make patients and medical professionals lives much easier. With the rise in patient numbers resulting in the need to process more health data, it’s becoming harder for hospitals and clinics to successfully manage and store all this information. Medical professionals are feeling pretty confident in the idea of blockchain implementation with 37.9% predicting that it will only take five years for adoption across medical organizations. I know that blockchain has the power to transform the medical industry, and I believe that all can greatly benefit from it.