Blockchain’s potential role in securing the healthcare industry

Since the first application of blockchain was introduced in 2008 with bitcoin, the technology has drawn a lot of attention and investment. Indeed, Juniper Research announced in July 2017 that 67% of enterprises had spent more than $100,000 by the end of 2016 and 91% planned to spend more than that in 2017. Indeed, the potential to build trust, through the process of verification on the blockchain can be applied to a variety of industries from financial and legal to transportation and healthcare.

While in other industries, blockchain has the ability to make processes more efficient, remove intermediaries and prove validity, in healthcare the impact is potentially much larger. Not only in the financial transactional side of healthcare, but there is also potential to see real medical advances as data from patients can be continuously analysed and available, while counterfeit drugs are more easily stamped out.

Democratised data

The ability to collect, store and analyse healthcare data on a mass scale is the first truly exciting benefit of using blockchain within the healthcare industry. Not only will patient data be permanently available on the blockchain, but access can be managed to ensure it is only accessed by trusted parties.

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In the case of clinical trials, findings can be compared over time and outcomes can be validated. Not to mention the fact that access to this information can be opened up and shared amongst the community.

Having interoperable data not only provides seamless access to historic and real-time patient data, but in doing so, it reduces the burden and cost of data reconciliation. This is particularly important as machine learning and AI become prevalent in healthcare, where an ever growing quantity of patient data needs to be democratised and secured.

Building integrity

As health data digitisation continues to evolve, cyber security challenges will also continue to persist. In 2016 for example, more reported healthcare breaches have occurred than ever before — and it’s looking like this year will follow suit. In fact, the Ponemon 2016 Cost of Data Breach report found that within the healthcare industry, the average cost per stolen record was $355. This is more than twice the average cost of any other type of stolen record worldwide. Blockchain however has the potential to change the evolution of cybersecurity in healthcare by bridging the gaps of device data interoperability while ensuring security, privacy, and reliability.

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Also, in the counterfeit prescription drug business – which is worth $75 billion – 80% of fake products were reportedly shipped to the US from overseas, which could be prevented using the blockchain.

By creating a digital key when a high-value product like a pharmaceutical is physically created, blockchain can be used to trace the product supply chain until it reaches a consumer. When the physical product moves, the blockchain token changes hands as well, mirroring its real-world chain of custody.

Simpler contracts

In the private sphere where contracts are put in place, the blockchain can automatically verify and authorise information; for example, to begin treatment. It can also eliminate the back and forth between multiple parties around what’s covered and what isn’t, as well as reduce medical billing-related fraud, thanks to the fact that there is transparency regarding billing and reimbursement.

Like all shiny, new technologies, blockchain has a few barriers the healthcare industry must address as it moves to adoption. One of the primary barriers to using a new method to store secure data is the fact that companies have already put a lot of money into existing secure data storage solutions.

It was not long ago that healthcare companies were tasked with transforming their data into digital electronic health records (EHRs). Getting smaller organisations like a doctor’s office to overhaul its data management practices a few years – after already doing so – is not always that easy.

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Additionally, blockchain storage uses a vast amount of energy. For instance, it currently takes about a city’s worth of power to support Bitcoin; and while data mining hardware is decreasing in cost, the demand for cryptocurrencies is not, meaning that eventually, the supply might outweigh demand.

Exactly how blockchain technology in healthcare will work isn’t clear, but some say the revolution is coming fast. In fact, 35% of healthcare companies plan on adopting blockchain by year’s end.

Understanding how this new technology can be leveraged — and what its limitations are — could potentially transform healthcare into one of the most secure data management industries in existence.


Sourced by Jake Meisenbach, Senior Consultant at DMI

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...