We’ve heard a lot about Blockchain over the past few years in reference to the technology and how it can revolutionize the collection, storage and sharing of information.
The blockchain can be thought of as a set of data that stays in place with a timestamp. When more data is added, the information around the first set remains unchanged, and subsequent data is stamped with its own time and placement information. This prevents tampering with information, regardless of the device on which the information is viewed, and provides a complete log of everything that is included in the database on a systematic basis.
As the name suggests, we can think of it as a chain whose links increase based on the data added – each piece of data would be considered a link in the chain.
Blockchain was first used when the era of cryptocurrency emerged as a way to enable safe and secure storage and tracking of data, but has since been applied to multiple disciplines. Healthcare is one such industry. The need for privacy, accuracy, and trust in health data makes it a prime candidate for using Blockchain to achieve secure, accurate, and age-retained information.
One of the most obvious ways to apply Blockchain to healthcare is through the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) as a means of maintaining the integrity of patient data. The goal, at least for some healthcare visionaries, of decentralizing the EMR so that it is accessible to all of the patient’s physicians, anywhere in the world, makes it a suitable candidate for Blockchain technology. Indeed, it would be difficult for a single person to tamper with records or alter anything previously put in place. In short, there should be accountability and easy follow-up, which bodes well for the veracity of the patient’s medical history and overall care.
IMMENSE VALUE FOR HEALTH CARE
A study published in the International Journal of Smart Grids in 2021 by Haleem et alunderlines the idea that Blockchain can bring immense value to healthcare, especially through the protection of patient records.
“Blockchain can guarantee the confidentiality of patient records. When medical history is developed, Blockchain can also store it, and this record cannot be changed,” the study states.
That’s not to say that transcription errors and doctor’s notes can’t be corrected. It simply means that all information – the original and the modification – will appear along the “string”.
Outside of EMR, Blockchain has a wide range of uses in the healthcare industry. According to stlpartners.com, these include supply chain transparency, reference checking of medical personnel, remote monitoring of information on various devices (the Internet of Things), and management and access to patient-centric data. Improving security in sharing research data, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, is another way to use Blockchain.
The World Health Organization’s Global Digital Health Strategy 2020-2025 posits that Blockchain is one of many new technologies that will improve healthcare delivery in the future.
In the plan’s first objective, the WHO says it will seek to “promote health innovations where appropriate, including cutting-edge digital technologies, such as the use of artificial intelligence, blockchain and big data analytics, and other emerging techniques and solutions in the health sector” in the short term – one to two years.
Although Blockchain increases data security and integrity, it is important to note that it is not an infallible system and is subject to hacking like any other technology. However, this is much more difficult to achieve but should always be treated as if there could be vulnerabilities and the necessary precautions should be taken to protect health data.
There is no reason why the digitalization of healthcare should not use all available assets to improve the health of the population and individuals as well as the entire healthcare system.
Blockchain is one such tool that can be used at the level of care as well as the level of research to improve outcomes and find solutions to age-old health issues plaguing the system.