This might sound like a pipedream but in a variety of cases blockchain solutions in healthcare are already becoming a reality. Advanced healthcare data management, revolutions in how we organise the supply chain, reducing the administrative burden on insurers and healthcare providers, improving clinical trials – these are all examples of what’s happening already in blockchain healthcare applications, and they are just the start.
What is Blockchain and what does it have to do with healthcare?
It might seem like blockchain has little to do with healthcare. A technology designed to facilitate the exchange of digital currencies like bitcoin does not at face value seem to have much to do with patients, doctors, hospitals or healthcare providers. But blockchains – and there are now a range of different types of blockchains or distributed ledgers for developers to choose from – have certain properties which makes them beneficial to transforming healthcare in ways that were not open to us in the past.
Blockchain technology provides a unique and reliable way to establish the provenance of information. A record added to a blockchain is recorded in real-time and cannot subsequently be changed, guaranteeing that the information genuinely existed at that moment. It has variously been called a trust layer on top of the internet, or even more grandly, a shared version of the truth.
Participants in a blockchain network also have a secure digital identity and a private key, meaning that any records they place on the system are digitally signed so that users are unable to go back and alter the audit trail of information at a later date.
A solution to big data?
For those worried about big data in healthcare it is important to note that sensitive information, like personal healthcare data, is generally not stored on the blockchain itself but instead companies are creating blockchain-based systems to allow users to reference and find out where that particular piece of healthcare information is stored. This could be applied to improving the way medical professionals and hospitals share clinical data or to scientific researchers wanting to segment and sort reams of genomic data or even to patients themselves wanting to take charge of their own healthcare records.
As a result of these new opportunities, startups are springing up to solve a range of entrenched problems in the healthcare industry. Real-world examples include creating electronic healthcare records, building a decentralized blockchain-driven database for genomic information, tracking the provenance of medicines to prevent counterfeiting and even combining blockchain with artificial intelligence to create interactive games which help asthmatic children to manage their condition.
The era of blockchain in healthcare is just in its infancy but it may just be the remedy we need to fix our overloaded and broken healthcare systems for the decades to come and to create the new business models of the future.
Helen Disney is CEO of Unblocked Events. If you’d like to find out more about blockchain and healthcare, she is hosting ‘Healthcare: Unblocked: Blockchain Solutions for Healthcare’ on 13 October at techUK.