Blockchain Revolutionizing Healthcare

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    By Krunal Soni
    Mar 30th, 2019

    Originally conceived for cryptocurrency in 2008, blockchain technology has found a new home in the healthcare sector, offering a tamper-proof digital ledger maintained by a distributed network of computers. While initially developed for cryptocurrency, blockchain has proven particularly beneficial in situations where collaborating parties with competing interests require a third-party guarantor. Healthcare organizations, in particular, have swiftly embraced blockchain technology.

    In 2017, an IBM report indicated that 16% of 200 healthcare executives across 16 countries anticipated the release of a commercial blockchain solution. Moreover, 90% of healthcare companies anticipated the implementation of a pilot blockchain project by 2018.

    Presently, blockchain is predominantly employed in healthcare for audit trails and value-based care. However, its potential extends far beyond these applications, especially with the rapid emergence of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). With blockchain, individuals could securely load clinical information directly onto their smartwatches and smartphones.

    Barriers to Electronic Health Record (EHR) Usability

    Historically, software developers in healthcare faced limitations due to complex, heterogeneous security requirements. Existing EHR models, based on legislated standards, often hinder progress and lead to gaps in adaptation by physicians.

    Blockchain has the potential to address these challenges by utilizing a distributed ledger to validate clinicians' credentials, control access to patient records, secure the medical supply chain, and verify clinical tests.

    For instance, the US Department of Health and Human Services held a contest in 2017 for innovative blockchain-related ideas, with MIT's Project PharmOrchard winning for proposing the use of blockchain to power clinical trials utilizing genomic data.

    Blockchain in Clinical Photography

    Blockchain brings significant improvements to clinical photography, particularly through smart contracts and enhanced interface apps. Smart contracts facilitate automatic enforcement of data-sharing agreements between patients and healthcare providers. Blockchain empowers patients to centralize their records, control access, and secure data, including clinical photos.

    In 2012, Harvard data scientists recommended the SMART platform, an open, standards-based technology platform. Blockchain technology can further enhance this concept, turning the EHR market into a secure, enforceable, and flexible system.

    While these examples focus on specific applications, blockchain offers holistic solutions. Blockchain's decentralized architecture can be a convergence point for health information, extending to areas like interoperability, personalized medicine, research, and security.

    Blockchain and Decentralization

    To appreciate the importance of decentralization and a trustworthy system, understanding the evolution of trust among humans is crucial. From early cavemen relying on trust for survival to the barter system, trust has evolved into complex centralized institutions, like banks. The financial collapse in 2008 prompted the creation of Bitcoin, the world's first decentralized cryptocurrency powered by blockchain technology.

    Blockchain's decentralized nature, where records are stored on multiple computers within the network, ensures transparency and real-time updates for all participants. This decentralization is beneficial for the healthcare industry.

    Healthcare and Interoperability

    Interoperability remains a significant challenge in healthcare, with issues related to patient identification and information blocking. Blockchain, with its public and private variants, addresses these challenges.

    Public blockchains, exemplified by Bitcoin and Ethereum, are open ecosystems but face limitations in storage capacity and throughput. Private blockchains, designed for enterprise needs, offer fast transactions, privacy, and high security. Private blockchains are ideal for implementing secure solutions in the healthcare ecosystem.

    Other Advantages of Blockchain in Healthcare

    Beyond interoperability, blockchain offers several advantages in healthcare:

    1. Immutable and Traceable Records: Patients can securely send records without fear of tampering or corruption.
    2. Secure Patient Data Control: Blockchain allows patients control over how their medical data is shared and used by institutions.
    3. Incentives for Patients: Patients can be rewarded with tokens for following care plans or contributing data for trials and research.
    4. Secure Pharma Supply Chain: Blockchain ensures a secure supply chain for pharmaceutical companies, reducing the risk of counterfeit drugs.
    5. Global Database for Research Trials: Decentralized blockchain creates a global database for medical research trials.

    Blockchain emerges as a powerful technology, preventing data breaches and offering numerous benefits to the healthcare industry. Caregivers and patients stand to gain from the implementation of blockchain, ensuring trustworthy and secure healthcare practices.

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