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Blockchain & The Healthcare Industry

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By now, you have probably heard of blockchain as the technology underlying cryptocurrencies (and that’s fair enough). But blockchain is a lot more than that. The great Steven “Woz” Wozniak sees it as the is the “next major IT revolution that is about to happen”, a prophecy worth contemplating.

This article takes a dip into the great possibilities that blockchain brings about to transform the healthcare industry. But first, let’s get our computer science basics on point.

 

Blockchain in a nutshell

Blockchain is one of the most intriguing and widely misunderstood notions out there. People are usually drawn to great stories and blockchain puts on a show its own. One of mystery and promises. With its "Satoshi Nakamoto", its " Silk Road" and " Cryptocurrencies" shaking the realm of the up-street banks and rushing the sharks of finances, and SEC regulators to their meeting tables.

Simply put, blockchain technology involves a “decentralized database” that lists all transactions of “tokens” (or digital money) between users, with each user having a unique public “token” address. Its core functionality is to provide an immutable, unaltered mean of storage and transmission of information. It is transparent and functions without a central control authority.

The strengths of a blockchain lie in its data integrity and immutability. Every computer in the distributed network maintains a copy of the ledger (term for a consecutive set of data, or database) to prevent a single point of failure. All copies are updated and validated simultaneously as well. Hence, to hack a blockchain, one must hack millions of computers at the same time, which is virtually impossible.

Sounds revolutionary in nature? Right. But when employed to money transactions, it also means untraceable funds flying around with no banks or regulators to watch over it. This very reason makes cryptocurrencies (money enabled by blockchain technology, and very first application of blockchain) a polarizing subject altogether.

An Exponentially Growing Market

Figure 1 below puts into perspective the exponential growth of the Global Blockchain Market. The data has been consolidated from Gosreports.

Figure 1 - Global Blockchain Technology Market Evolution and Predictions

The global blockchain technology market is expected to grow and hit more than 3 billion USD in 2021 worldwide from 210.2 million USD in 2016 at a CAGR of 61.5%.

Obviously, we are not dealing with a “bubble”. Nor is it a ”hype”. It’s a burgeoning multi-billions industry that is growing impressively fast - considering that the first blockchain was introduced in 2009 to enable bitcoin, the first digital currency.

Applications of blockchain comprise many industries and healthcare holds an important leading position as reported by figure 2 hereafter.

Figure 2 – Global Blockchain Market by Customer / Sector - Source : Technavio

46.85% of blockchain customers are healthcare providers contributing to a total market share of 8.24% according to Technavio.

P.S: The United States is dominating the blockchain landscape with more than 30% of the market share according to the same source. This success stems from the early adoption of the technology and the existence of a great ecosystem of innovation fueled by startups. Here are some of the major uses of blockchain in Healthcare.

Countering counterfeit drugs

Blockchain use cases in healthcare encompass various areas such as supply chain, clinical trial and Electronic Medical History (or EMH). Most importantly, blockchain plays a critical role in identifying counterfeit drugs.

As a matter of fact, counterfeit drugs represent a major public healthcare problem - one that prompted institutions like INTERPOL  to raise the alarm. A few months earlier, the International Police reported seizing millions of counterfeit medicine , and confirms that the threat is huge and omnipresent.

By enhancing drug traceability in immutable ledgers, and recording / tracking all transactions in Blockchains, such a threat can come to an end.

In such a scheme, blockchain can be used to completely track the life cycle of a given drug from drug manufacturers, to wholesalers, to pharmacists and ultimately to patients.

Furthermore, blockchain can be used to secure drug information, which is paramount to tackling counterfeit drugs issues. By enforcing traceability and transparency, and involving all stakeholders in such effort, we might have an even better outcome than simple policing, which demands huge funds and effort.

Efficient Storage of Patients Electronic Medical History

Blockchain makes it easier to store, access and share information. By all means, patients will not have to run in all directions after their records, collecting them before switching to a different healthcare provider.

Once stored into a blockchain, physicians with the correct access rights can access the files from any computer, and with a simple click, download the entire medical file.

Protecting Data From Hackers

Things might get a little complicated for hackers with the advent of Blockchain application to protect healthcare data. We are most certainly talking about huge masses of electronic data (or crumb) that, in healthcare, touches every thing from drug classes and inventory to patients’ blood types and medical history.

Hackers know very well the sensitivity of healthcare data and its week points.

One example comes from the United Kingdom. In late 2017, hackers infiltrated the National Health System website spreading chaos through a ransom cyber attack, as reported by the Telegraph .

Operations and appointments were cancelled and ambulances were diverted as up to 40 hospital trusts became infected by the attack, with the hackers pushing for payments to release the access to the vital medical records.

Using Blockchain will make it virtually impossible to compromise such sensitive data for a unique reason: there is no single, central authority. There is no single point of failure with admin privileges. It’s the genius behind a decentralized architecture.

Clinical Research & Trials

It’s all about traceability and utter transparency. Considering the latters to be serious weak points in clinical trials and research, the use of Blockchain brings a great promise of its own.

For example, say a patient consents to undergo a clinical trial. Using Blockchain, the appropriate signed document will be stored and tracked in a secure and unaltered database (or blockchain). This will ease the information sharing in real time and prevent any posteriori reconstruction forever.

Still in a clinical trial case, blockchain provides a significant level of history and inviolability of data for the whole CT workflow.

 

Other Pictures: Pixabay, Unsplash

Tags:Blockchain, Healthcare, Use cases

 

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