Blockchain in healthcare has been a game-changer; it was only a matter of time. It has been a key enabler in deeper research, effective processes, enhanced security, and efficient patient outcomes. The healthcare sector has continuously endeavoured to improve outcomes for patients and make services more accessible.
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Blockchain and healthcare can create a favourable ecosystem that facilitates reinvention of the information infrastructure, which is the crux of the healthcare sector. It has the potential to create a healthcare system that is more secure, reliable, effective, and efficient.
Features of Blockchain
Blockchain is an essential disruptive technology; although having foundations in the digital assets space, the features of blockchain have been so compelling that they have been extended to other sectors, including healthcare. As many may know, blockchain is a distributed ledger system that records transactions in a decentralised database.
Each transaction is then recorded in blocks, which are chained together. Upon filling one block with data, another block is created, and it is chained in chronological order. Compelling features of blockchain are, they support storage of transactions, product inventories, and other records, including finances. Although blockchain differs from other conventional technology and the distinction is as follows:
- Blockchains are different from other databases that store data in tables; these novel databases use blocks
- They create an irreversible timestamp on the documents or transactions stored in the block
- The decentralised nature of blockchain databases allows for easy access to data. These blockchains can be private and centralised for use by a single entity
- The self-regulating and self-correcting framework cross-references records to ascertain the root of the error and sequentially corrects them without any manual intervention
- A high level of security in the blockchain is one of the most vital features, any alteration in any single block requires the consensus of all the other blocks, and any alteration in one single block will require a change in the codes of adjacent blocks
Benefits of Blockchain in Healthcare
There are numerous ways in which the healthcare sector benefits from the use of blockchain; some of the most prominent benefits are listed here:
1. Electronic health records: Blockchain database enables seamless recording of patient data; this is one of the key features of blockchain. The maintenance of electronic health records is seamless and cost-effective.
The database is self-regulating and self-correcting, which ensures that there is no human intervention. The accuracy of data is optimal compared to other conventional methods of storing / recording data.
2. Rich medical research work: Blockchain as a platform is decentralised and can be made public, thereby providing equitable access to people across borders. This allows the medical researchers to share their research work, it has also allowed researchers to collaborate on a larger scale, thus increasing the quality of academic publications. The ability to collect, store and analyse data has also increased manifold.
3. Security: Security is one of the most exciting features of blockchain; this database can protect the data from ransomware and cyberattacks due to the high level of encryption that the data undergoes.
The data is stored with a unique ID that is encrypted, although accessible by one and all; if available on a public platform, any alterations are reflected on a real-time basis and are possible only upon consensus across the data in other blocks.
4. Supply chain management: Blockchain technology has enabled shared infrastructure in the healthcare sector. The supply chains have been streamlined and are accessible across borders and timelines, thereby making them more reliable and accessible.
The supply chains are easier to manage and track, the settlement is carried out seamlessly, and there is an overall reduction in the cost of operation due to efficient supply chain management.
5. Recruitment for clinical trials: As per research cited by AMIA Annual symposium proceedings, 86% of the clinical trials fail as they are unable to meet their recruitment goals. This can be attributed to the inability to recruit qualified participants on time. Over 19% of the trials are closed prematurely or terminated due to the inability to recruit the right type of talent for clinical trials.
Ethereum-based blockchain has enabled stimulating the recruitment process and enables the trial information to be accessible to all researchers/stakeholders whilst ensuring that the trial participants’ privacy is protected.
6. Smart contracts to manage clinical trials’ results: The clinical trials data can be overwhelming at times; blockchain enables efficient management by maintaining high standards of data integrity, patient anonymity, and adherence to regulatory obligations. The smart contract records can be used seamlessly for analysis.
The adoption of blockchain in the healthcare industry as we’ve discussed above will improve patient outcomes and has evidenced improvement in operational efficiency. Electronic health records help patients achieve better control of their data and improve accuracy and security. They reduce overall healthcare costs, which eventually makes healthcare more accessible and affordable.