When you think of blockchain, bitcoin comes to mind. This technology has been a real buzz in the financial sector, especially in the whole of last year. However, medical IT experts have been critically analyzing the options of integrating it into the healthcare industry. It could help enhance operations in the sector through automation and improved data management techniques.
Data management for medical experts has been one of the most consistent challenges, as it requires precision, especially for review purposes. It is thus ideal that medical professionals embrace a technology that comes with answers to such problems. The blockchain technology has proved to work effectively in the financial industry, by providing a network that is secure, private and tamper proof. All this is what the healthcare industry is lacking and blockchain can help provide amicable solutions.
IBM Institute conducted a survey, where they sampled 200 healthcare executives from 16 countries. Nine out of ten of those who were interviewed said that they were planning to invest in blockchain by 2018, while 16% will implement the technology by 2017. This shows that healthcare professionals believe in the blockchain technology as the future of effective and quality healthcare.
What is blockchain?
A lot can be discussed about the use of the blockchain technology, but in order to understand what is does, you have to know what it is. Blockchain is simply a distributed network of blocks linked with each other. Transactions are recorded on those linked blocks and stored in a distributed ledger, digitally. Each user who has access to that network will have a digital copy of the data. In that case, if anyone changes or adds data to that block in the network, that you have access to, it will be replicated and you will be able to see. All these changes will be recorded in the distributed digital ledger, which makes it more secure.
Limitation that bring the need to implement blockchain
The major problem facing the healthcare industry, which can be solved through the integration of the blockchain technology is data sharing. Since different healthcare professionals use different data formats, it is impossible to share databases with other professionals in the same field. This means that, when a patient approaches a new medical professional, the expert will not be able to pull up the patient’s medical history.
A medical expert will have to carry out unnecessary tests on the patient, which would have been avoided if the medical records were accessible. This is where the blockchain technology will come in handy as you only need to be part of the network and then you can access data from anywhere.
So, how will the blockchain technology save the healthcare industry?
Improve data security
In the year 2016 alone, more than 27 million patients’ medical records were breached. Every year, medical data and records, stored digitally, are accessed by unauthorized persons. As specialist from Bedrock IT mentioned ‘This is mainly contributed by vulnerable network systems firewall, which exposes the privacy and security of that data.’ Blockchain may offer a lasting solution with its distributed digital leger mechanism of storing data. The only people who can access that data are the ones who are within a certain block linked to the blockchain network.
Management of medical data
Healthcare professionals and institutions have already digitalized the storage and management of data even without blockchain. However, since that data is stored in different formats, it may be inaccessible to other professionals in different parts of world. To ensure remote access by all healthcare providers, who may find the data useful, integration with the blockchain technology is inevitable. MedRec has already set an example by implementing the blockchain in the management of medical data. Through this technology, professionals in the industry will be able to save time and money, and even the life of a patient. This is because they will be able to access all the medical data of that patient, regardless of where they are, and act within a short period.
Enhance remote access of medical records and data
A healthcare professional seeking to access medical records of a patient can do so with ease, thanks to the blockchain technology. As long as the expert is in the same network, they will be able to access the data stored in the distributed ledger. This way, the medical expert will be able to make sound decisions regarding the diagnosis, prescriptions and treatment to administer to the patient without the need to do more tests.
Storage of clinical trials and medical research data
Clinical trials help in the development of a new drug. It has to undergo different trials while being tested with human or animal specimen to see whether the side effects outweigh the benefits before it can be approved. Such trials can be improved through sharing of data among professionals in the healthcare industry. As such, decisions can be arrived with speed and in an accurate manner.
Management of claims and medical billing
Billing in medical institutions can be done with ease and high level of accuracy by developing applications using the blockchain technology to do all that. This means that there will be no middlemen when it comes to billing as the entire process will be automated, which will also save on the cost. For the claims management, blockchain will help to securely store and make accessible data that relates to claims by patients. Since the ta cannot be altered it will help to greatly minimize frauds due to claims in the medical sector.
Drug supply chain management
Organizations will be able to know the amount of drugs supplied to every part of the globe with ease. Since all information and data related to those drugs will be stored in the distributed ledger it will be easy to verify whether a drug is counterfeit or not. Healthcare professionals will be able to do this in seconds, if not minutes remotely.
Challenges that may come up in this transformation
Just like any new technology, major challenges are expected throughout the process of integrating blockchain in the healthcare industry. One of them is the slow uptake of the technology by healthcare professionals, which is due to the uncertainties on the cost aspect implementing the new technology will bring. In short, healthcare professionals and institutions are developing cold feet when it comes to ushering in the new technology.
Another one is the uncertainties in regulation of the technology. The question of how it is expected to be regulated by governments is still a grey area. Luckily, more states in the USA and countries, such as South Korea, are warming up to the technology, where plans are underway on how to regulate the technology
A need-to-know basis on the how the technology works, is also a rising challenge in the process of integrating the blockchain technology into the healthcare industry. Most healthcare professionals do not understand how the technology works, which proves to be a major challenge. All in all, it is a work-in-progress, which will become complete in the near future.
Healthcare professionals plus institutions need to keep piloting the blockchain technology in their operations before implementing it fully. This will help them to get acquainted with the technology and understand better how it works and the cost implications it comes with. By so doing, it will bring about a smooth transition from the traditional systems.