How Blockchain Technology Can Transform the Healthcare Industry
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She lives in Alabama in the United States, and she is 21 years old. In her spare time, Jane enjoys traveling around the West Coast. This summer, after a hard year in college, she decided to travel through California.
Jane was having fun in L.A. when she suddenly started to have breathing problems. Some of the people passing by called 911, and an ambulance rushed out and took her to the hospital. By the time she arrived in the emergency room, Jane was struggling to get enough air to breath.
Soon, she was diagnosed with an acute respiratory failure, and treatment started. But the problem was that Jane couldn’t tell the doctors anything about her medical history.
Since her sole focus was to get some air, she had difficulties speaking. “Are you using any medications? Do you have any chronic disease? What allergies do you have?” None of the members of her family could tell the medical team either – they weren’t there.
Everything about her medical condition was written in her medical record, which was in her local hospital in Alabama. But the doctors here in LA didn’t have access to it. They knew nothing about her medical history.
You’ve guessed it – Jane was in quite the predicament.
I think you’ll agree with me when I say that something like this can happen to anyone, not just to Jane.
Let’s face it – healthcare today faces some serious problems. Fragmented data and lack of interoperability and secure links are just some of them. Obtaining and sharing medical records is insecure, slow, and often incomplete.
Although we are living in a digital world, today’s healthcare systems often require patients to obtain and share their medical records as physical paper copies, or they are stored within a single system. These copies may get stolen or lost. You have to keep track of every single piece of paper because you never know when someone will request it from you. And computer systems can get hacked.
Plus, there is always a security problem since patients don’t own their data, and these data can be manipulated. Try to recall some healthcare institutions you’ve visited in the past.
These institutions probably obtained access to your data so they can learn more about your medical history. Once the provider got access to your data, they remained permanently in his possession. And these are just a few problems healthcare is dealing with.
Now, the question is, can we use blockchain technology to improve healthcare system? Yes, we can.
Most of us know that blockchain technology was initially created in order to help the financial industry. Distributed ledgers should ensure that financial transactions don’t rely upon an intermediary – financial institutions like a bank, PayPal, or a credit company.
Today, most of the attention around blockchain is centered on cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin. But blockchain slowly started to find applications in other fields like legal, healthcare, economics, education…
More and more companies are seeing potential in blockchain technology and are implementing it in everyday technology.
In the case of the healthcare industry, blockchain can solve one of the biggest challenges in healthcare today: how to transfer patient data around the world and through different systems without compromising its security.
But wait, there is more to that.
Let’s take a look at more problems that blockchain can solve in the healthcare industry:
1. The elimination of third-party intermediary can reduce administrative costs
According to the study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, using data from 1999, about 30% of American health care expenditures were the result of administration.
Today, that would mean that out of the average of about $19,000 that US workers and their employers pay for family coverage each year, $5,700 goes toward administrative costs. These are some serious numbers.
On the other side, blockchain technology uses smart contracts in order to avoid intermediaries, in this particular case, administration. Plus, centralized data storage can bring duplication and errors. Blockchain, a decentralized network, provides immutability and transparency.
2. Keeping patient digital identity private and safe
Using a private key, patients can confirm their identity within different health organizations, and those without a key cannot identify the data. This way, patient’s data belong to the patients, not institutions.
It’s worth mentioning that in today’s healthcare industry, it’s not unusual to see duplicated patient records and incorrect or incomplete medical data.
3. Blockchain enables interoperability among providers
Interoperability (don’t make me say it again) means that different healthcare organizations can securely share patients’ medical records with one another, no matter where they’re located.
For example, let’s say you went to see a doctor at your local clinic, but you still want to ask for a second opinion. Without blockchain technology, that means you have to copy all your documents and your medical record (and you have to be careful not to forget something).
Then, you can go and see another doctor and ask for a second opinion. But with blockchain technology involved, that means that all your data are already within the network and that the other doctor can see them using your key.
This includes not only information about your current state, but also your entire medical history.
I’m sure you’ll agree that this would help our Jane from the beginning of the post.
4. Blockchain can track prescriptions to detect over prescriptions
Prescription of opioids such as fentanyl and pain relievers have become epidemic in the United States. But it’s not a problem only in the USA. Drug abuse is a worldwide epidemic, and the UN estimates that there are 29.5 million people around the world with drug use disorders.
And here is the problem: current prescription tracking systems lack the technology to track prescriptions successfully.
On the other hand, blockchain can make prescriptions traceable and safe. How? By establishing a blockchain-based network of hospitals and pharmacies to track all transactions and prescriptions.
This way, every prescription remains marked and transparent.
Despite all of the benefits that blockchain technology offers, the use of public blockchains in healthcare is still a challenge.
Is blockchain technology perfect? No, it’s not. Blockchain-based applications also face many challenges.
Is blockchain a better solution than the existing technology used in healthcare? Yes, it is. And it’s definitely worth trying.
Tamara Jones is a freelance writer for hire with specialization in blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. When she isn’t writing, you can find her taking long walks with her dog.