The healthcare industry today is full of archaic inefficiencies that blockchain could solve. From reducing over 40% of errors in medical records to preventing the distribution of fake and dangerous drugs, blockchain solutions could revolutionize the industry we know today. It is no wonder that many companies are now working hard to bring healthcare into the blockchain future of tomorrow.
In essence, blockchain is an immutable distributed ledger that allows for peer-to-peer trustless consensus. While at first glance, it may seem primarily applicable to industries like finance, the back-end processes of medicine and healthcare have similar needs. Blockchain can help the healthcare industry through:
Data on the blockchain cannot be altered by anyone and accessed by everyone. Therefore, all doctors would have access to the complete and accurate medical history of their patients. They would be able to do so without having to send cumbersome requests to other offices and risk getting incomplete or faulty data. Also, if a doctor’s system goes down or something happens to the doctor, a patient’s records won’t be at the mercy of the centralized point of failure.
By teaming up with several different companies, corporations like UnitedHealthcare are trying to share provider information, cut out various intermediaries, and save time in the process. The collaboration of these giants will ensure a much higher degree of transparency.
Hashed Health is creating a distributed verification database for licensed doctors. This is significantly shortening the approval time for doctors to be able to work in different states. While doctors may have had to wait three months in the past, now they can have their credentials verified almost in no time at all.
Counterfeit drugs affect almost 100,000 people every year. Companies under the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) are working to ensure that every pill can be traced throughout the distribution system. This is done through unique serial numbers that are held on-chain and are tamper-proof. By utilizing zero-knowledge proofs, pharmaceutical companies can share data to validate a specific event. Furthermore, they would be able to do so without having to disclose valuable and private information to one another.
Cluttered back-end management accounts for almost 20% of all costs in the healthcare industry. Authorizations for drugs may take up to a week, and customer service costs are currently at an all-time high. Blockchain would be able to standardize and automate many of these processes, allowing for a patient’s insurance claim to be processed instantaneously. This would reduce the reliance on claim specialists and minimize the probability of errors in processing claims as well.
Clinical trials relying on sensitive and timely custody of information can be improved through the use of smart contracts. Not only would the reliability of results increase, but adjacent studies could be easily linked to ongoing ones to boost accuracy and speed up information gathering.
Companies like IBM are consistently filing patents for blockchain-powered solutions to some of the healthcare industry’s most pressing problems. Still, it seems many of these applications are in the early stages of development. Most of the initial healthcare blockchain use cases seem to revolve around streamlining routine back-end operations. These have proven easier to implement and have shown immediate cost savings.
Nevertheless, certain complex solutions are currently being implemented as well. MediLedger is providing drug companies with an efficient system for drug validation and verification. The platform is compliant with GSI regulations and monitors activity when required. Furthermore, India has recently implemented unique identifiers for patients. This could make the implementation of a blockchain patient record tracking system much easier to execute for the healthcare industry. When patient records across the world become fully integrated on a distributed ledger blockchain system, entrepreneurs and developers will be able to build decentralized applications and solutions for various use cases.
Healthcare is a multi-trillion dollar industry globally with established technology systems, regulations, and ways of doing things. Any technology that seeks to be genuinely disruptive will most certainly face challenges along the way. Below are some challenges that blockchain is currently facing in the healthcare system.
With over 30 million transactions processed on any given day, the scalability issues surrounding blockchain are preventing the possibility of full-scale adoption.
Patient rights and privacy need to be handled with utmost care. For the healthcare system to adopt blockchain, there will need to be some accepted standard of blockchain development for the industry. While zero-knowledge proofs and homomorphic encryption are trying to solve this, the road ahead is still quite long.
It took many years before the medical industry even adopted electronic records. While startups can implement changes on the fly, large bureaucratic entities are usually only prone to change if they feel the pressure of being left behind. From stakeholder buy into actual implementation, the entire process can take years to come to fruition.