Author: Renée-Marie Stephano
Healthcare has experienced a major paradigm shift with the development of technology-driven innovations, from Virtual Reality to the Smart Hospital and Artificial-Intelligence-driven health solutions. These innovations have simplified patient care, changing the narrative to a patient-centric model. However, a novel technology which will further revolutionize healthcare as we know it is gaining momentum and catalyzing this disruption.
Blockchain is a digitalized public ledger of cryptocurrency transactions stored as blocks of data. Using asymmetric cryptography and consensus algorithms, blockchain ensures the consistency of the ledger, as well as user security. It creates distributable data records that are shareable between connected database systems. The main features setting Blockchain technology apart are its associated decentralization of transactions, anonymity, continuity, and auditability. In simple terms, using blockchain technology, data cannot be recognized or modified until it reaches the recipient.
This technology is the foundation of bitcoin and cryptocurrency and is being widely used in other fields, including financial services and insurance, Internet of Things (IoT), real estate, identity management for HR, energy and commodity trading, and the freight and logistics industry. The financial services industry has benefited the most from this innovative technology, and as reported by Silicon Republic, banks which use blockchain technology save up to $12 billion annually.
The healthcare industry is not taking a passive stance in this tech revolution, as stakeholders are beginning to tap into the enormous benefits blockchain and distributed ledger technologies have created in healthcare. A study by Frost & Sullivan titled “Blockchain in Healthcare, Forecast 2017-2025,” estimates the global blockchain in the healthcare market will grow at a CAGR of 63.85% from 2018 to 2025, reaching a market value of $5.61 billion. Blockchain is also expected to provide efficient healthcare services through advances in health information technology. This is estimated to save the industry up to $100 – $150 billion yearly by 2025. This research further analyses some of the most promising applications of blockchain in the healthcare industry.
Healthcare Data Exchange
Interoperability gaps are a top priority for the health industry. Current industry statistics reveal the current centralized IT systems for exchange of health data, employs the services of 150,000 people and costs $18.6 billion globally every year. Blockchain technology offers a decentralized system of health data exchange which protects and helps authenticate health information. In addition, blockchain eliminates the burden and cost associated with data reconciliation by enabling easy access to real-time health information.
One example of the Blockchain application is illustrated in the recent partnership between the Estonian eHealth Foundation and Guardtime, a data security company in the business of protecting the health records of 1 million Estonian citizens with the patented Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI). Using the KSI technology, Guardtime plans to incorporate blockchain-based data security, auditability, and transparency into all levels of Estonian eGovernment systems.
Drug Traceability and Clinical Trials
Statistics reveal that pharmaceutical companies globally incur up to $200 billion annually in losses associated with counterfeit drugs. More than one-third of drugs sold in developing countries are thought to be counterfeit. With Blockchain technology, barriers to supply chain tracking can be eliminated by creating a chain-of-custody log, using AI-based add-ons to build a proof of ownership data for medicines.
Another instance of an effective Blockchain application in the pharmaceutical industry is the iSolve ADLTTM platform-based drug supply solution. Average drug development from approval to marketing costs pharma companies between $4 billion and $11 billion. Utilizing Blockchain-based solutions such as iSolve, the cost will be significantly reduced.
iSolve’s ADLTTM ensures visibility and security across all levels of drug development and supply, allowing companies to have better insight into inventory, drug demand, and patient needs. iSolve’s ADLTTM also helps to reduce leakages in the supply chain, promote incentive-based programs with marketers, and increase compliance with drug regulations.
Blockchain technology can help reduce the incidence of errors and fraud in clinical trial records by providing immutable records of clinical trials and results. Additionally, Blockchain-enabled technology can address outcome switching and selective reporting in clinical trials. Researchers from Cambridge University in 2016 conducted a study to determine how blockchain can help authenticate clinical trials.
They found that using a unique code generated by the Blockchain system can detect if the data of a clinical trial has been modified, by identifying a hash which the system generates for every modification made to the data.
The number of patients receiving care increases yearly, leading to more and more health data providers having to manage cases regularly. Experts report that by 2020, there will be more than 20 billion healthcare IoT interconnected devices. This increase in the volume of patient health information poses a serious concern for data protection.
Protenus Breach Barometer reports there were a total of 450 health data security breaches in 2016, affecting more than 27 million patients. Close to half of the breaches were carried out by insiders and about 27% caused by ransomware.
Blockchain technology can bridge the gaps of data interoperability, ensuring security and privacy of Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) use. Blockchain technology ensures information authenticity by anchoring data to the public Blockchain, resulting in the creation of proof of data security. Blockchain provides a decentralized platform of ownership by tracking transactions made through the system.
Every device connected to this system confirms if a blockchain version corresponds to another in the network. Using this approach, users can verify their patient health information (PHI) integrity, ensure data safety, and authenticate clinical trial results.
Blockchain technology is, without doubt, a disruptive innovation that cuts across several fields. Stakeholders in healthcare are equally enthusiastic about the opportunities afforded by Blockchain in healthcare, investing heavily in distributed ledger technologies to promote more efficient healthcare systems.