Healthcare is the basic need of any human being on this planet. It essentially determines the standards of a country that one lives in. We have seen tremendous growth in the field of health care industry in the 20th century. Advanced medical procedures, state of the art equipment’s in operation theatres, or AI applied to image and diagnostics are examples of that.
These essentially improved the life expectancy of human beings. But where do we stand at the very basic thing when it comes to healthcare, which is documentation? The reports and the paperwork that is involved? Yes, the records are being digitised within a hospital for some time now, but still, more or less we find so much of paperwork required.
What if we have to transfer the medical history of a patient from one hospital to a better one with more facilities? (This often happens in any developed/developing country). There is a lot of paper trial involved, and this is THE major application of blockchain in the health care industry. Why this is so important is what we will be discussing further in a bit.
Blockchain is nothing but information (any kind of information in our case, we can take the medical history of a patient) stored in blocks. These blocks are joined together to make it a chain of blocks. This ledger is then shared across the parties involved in the network for their approval. The individuals who are maintaining this ledger will confirm if the information that is being entered in the block is authentic. Once all the required approvals are generated, the block is accepted in the chain and thus making it a part of the blockchain. Once the block is part of the blockchain, it cannot be modified or edited no matter what. Hence no one can tamper the records that are already entered. This property makes the blockchain technology a trustworthy environment which is immutable and transparent to all the parties involved.
Because of these amazing properties, blockchain has numerous applications in most of the existing industries and healthcare is among one of those. Blockchain has the potential to revolutionise the way information is transferred, and that is the greatest application of it in the healthcare industry. Now lets us look at the applications of blockchain in the industry of healthcare.
Exchange of medical history of a patient
Why is the exchange of a patient’s medical history important? Let us explain you with an example. People often travel throughout the world for various reasons. In most of the instances, they travel alone. What if a person falls sick and gets admitted to a hospital where no one knows about his medical history? To emphasise more on this, we don’t even have to talk about international travel, but a medical history exchange from hospital to hospital is in a very bad state as of today. One could be allergic to a particular type of food or medicine for that matter, and there is easily a pretty high chance that the doctors may misdiagnose them without knowing their medical history. It is a known fact that misdiagnosis is the third reason for death in the US after heart disease and cancer. In the European countries and the US, there are some standards maintained for the exchange of Electronic Patient Records (EPR), and there is different terminology for these records in different countries. In some hospitals, a patient can undergo treatment in different departments, but these departments tend to keep the information to themselves instead of maintaining an aggregated file for a patient. Though we are moving towards digitisation, the approach is not being followed on a broader scale and if followed not to the extent required.
So, what if we take out this information from their hands and make this global? How can this be achieved? This is where the application of blockchain comes in. Using the blockchain technology we can create a unique identifier (this identifier is global and not for any county) for every patient that enters a hospital and store the medical history of the patient in the blockchain. This information can be shared with the third-party entities or whoever so ever requires that information by taking patients consent as this information is very sensitive. We have privacy, transparency, and more importantly, no one can tamper with the records and literally no hassle of paperwork. This is a win-win situation for every party involved as there is no loss of records.
Stop Counterfeit drugs
It is estimated that tens of thousands of people die due to counterfeit drugs every year as they don’t intend to act as their counterparts. Also, pharma industries lose billions of dollars because of these counterfeit drugs. These are the crucial problems that are plaguing the healthcare industry. More regulatory and regular audits for the pharma industries will only burden them with extra regularities, and of course, a huge amount of costs are involved while doing these audits. Finally, the cost is passed on to the end customer.
Blockchain can be used to eliminate this problem as one of the significant applications of blockchain is provenance tracking. Every single step in the process can be captured as a transaction in the blockchain. Steps like chemical production, manufacturing of the medicine in the factory, shipping the medicine, storing the medicine in the warehouses, to transporting them to the pharmacies in the hospitals, can be captured. This information can be made available to the end-user by just scanning the barcode on the product. End customers are now assured that the medicine they are using is an authentic one.
Before any new drug or medical device hits the market, clinical trials on the medicine or device are essential. Different types of clinical trials are performed to determine how effective the theoretical data is accurate with respect to the practical one. This approves or disapproves the effectiveness of the drug. A lot of reports are generated with respect to the statistics, test results, quality of the reports, etc., based on which FDA approves the drug or device.
There might be some malicious scientists who can tamper the records and make the drug available in the market. This results in a great deal of loss, which can only be realised after the damage is done. If we can store these records in a blockchain by using timestamp functionality, it paves a way to the authentic clinical trials as timestamps cannot be altered. Doctors from Cambridge University have already proved this, and a lot of companies are going to adopt this technology soon.
Medical Insurance claims
It is often said that your health insurance policy doesn’t cover a particular procedure or treatment, and a lot of claims gets rejected due to this. Also, it takes a lot of time for the insurance companies to clear out the bills, which is not very helpful for the patients. We can use smart contract functionality using blockchain and automate the entire process to be done within a few minutes instead of days. Using smart contracts, we give certain conditions that need to be met in order to process your claim. Funds can be released automatically once your claim gets processed, making human intervention very less.
With the rapid growth of blockchain, the healthcare industry is already turning towards this technology. The number of startups in this regard is growing year by year as many health care providers are trying to integrate blockchain into their systems. By doing this, they can achieve maximum benefits and also will be able to serve their patients better.
But the adoption is still in its initial stage. Digitisation of records and standards for the electronic exchange of these records is getting more traction in developed countries like the US and Europe. But the world is not limited to only these countries. Thus, a lot more health care providers should start adopting blockchain in order to revolutionise and more importantly, to standardise the sector. Health care cannot be neglected at any cost.
Hope you got a gist on the application of blockchain in the healthcare sector. Do you know any better problems that blockchain could solve? Or any areas where this technology can be applied? Let us in the comments below.