Blockchain technology has gone from being ridiculed and brushed off by technology gurus to being a reality upon which hinges the future of all technologies. The narrative has swiftly moved from dwelling on the legitimacy of the technology to now discussions on the potential applications of this revolutionary innovation ranging from financial services, cybersecurity data management, and IoT to food science and brain research. But one field where the technology can truly make a mark is the inefficient health care industry, specifically, in the fight against diseases.
Current healthcare systems are criminally slow and rely on the rusty old data management and transfer mechanisms that put a huge question mark on the adequacy and efficacy of the solutions. But this is where blockchain technologies fit perfectly, as they offer safe and secure data management and delivery without any limits on the complexity or volume of data. Other applications could include improving diagnosis effectiveness, offering treatment through safe and secure data sharing, and even allowing real-time clinical data retrieval. Today we discuss some of the potential blockchain innovations that can change the healthcare for the better:
1) Eelectronic health records (EHR)
The digitalization of medical data has been a key advancement in the industry, pushed by the sheer volume of information involved even for a single patient. The distributed nature of data that patients leave across various institutions over their lives exacerbates the situation. Thus, a central medical database or EHRs was a pressing need, but it comes with dangers of malpractice and insecurity of the patient records. This problem has been resolved by the implementation of blockchain technology in maintaining the EHRs, with solutions such as “MedRec” utilizing distinct blockchain features to accommodate authentication, integrity, confidentiality, and ease of data dispersion.
MedRec uses a decentralized records management system and offers the patients a detailed, and unalterable historical database with easy access across various providers and treatment institutions. The technology works by not storing medical records but rather saving a mark of the record on a blockchain to advise the patient, who is in full control over where that record is allowed to move.
2) Clinical research
A host of problems such as data privacy, data integrity, data sharing, patient enrolling, record keeping and disease control, can surface pop up during clinical trials. Programmable blockchain such as Ethereum offer a realistic solution for these nuisances as the protocol provides smart contract functionality within the network.
The system can be used in parallel to clinic-based data management systems, as implemented by a group of researchers, with the main focus on addressing the issue of the patient enrolment problem. Ethereum implementation by the researchers resulted in quicker transactions and processing while offering better transparency of data management systems in clinical trials.
3) Medical fraud detection
Blockchain technology can also simplify the overly complex medicinal drug supply chain management. Supply chain management is mission-critical for the medical industry, as it directly affects the wellbeing of a patient.
Currently, supply chains are vulnerable and ridden with operational holes due to a huge number of moving parts, making them susceptible to fraudulent attacks. The implementation of blockchains offers a safe and secure solution for the problem, as it offers higher data transparency and improved product traceability. This is possible because a record in a blockchain can only be added, edited, and validated through a smart contract, and the entire ledger is updated about any changes in the data, making any malpractice harder to exist.
4) Chronic diseases
For patients fighting chronic diseases such as cancer or HIV, the medicals recordkeeping can get even more cumbersome due to the requirements of pre-and-post treatment and rehabilitation procedures. Therefore, maintaining an updated patient history becomes even more important to ensure effective treatment.
There have been several blockchain applications in this niche to help manage, maintain, and share the electronic medical records of patients with chronic illnesses.
For example, UK-based cancer research company Lancor Scientific is currently working on the development of a blockchain system to give the patients complete control over their test results, and give them an option to share or retract their data with the concerned medical community themselves. The system even allows online payments using its own Ethereum-based token.
In addition, Lancor Scientific is also developing a global cancer register with an initial focus on cervical cancer. Through the aggregation of this global data, the company hopes to pin-point the at-risk communities, which usually hail from low and middle-income countries.
Similarly, a German company, Camelot ITLab is currently employing a blockchain system known as the hypertrust X-Chain solution that offers an immutable audit and custody chain for patients who undergo complex CAR-T cell immunotherapy treatments.
Meanwhile, US company Witty Health has already developed OncoPower, which is a blockchain system and cryptocurrency that could be used for medical records storage as well as a patient-provider communication platform.
Various aspects of distributed ledger technology are being used to document, diagnose, treat and follow up diseases of all kinds around the world. Some of these projects are in the pipeline while some have been fully implemented at industrial scales. In the future, the medical industry is likely to become more transparent and organized as a result of these efforts.
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