Healthcare record management on the blockchain

The current state of healthcare record management in most countries is disjointed due to a lack of common architectures and standards. Security and trust issues are common concerns shared by businesses regarding the information shared between different entities. Information can be entered anywhere along the line of communication which leads to trust issues, especially in the healthcare industry. There are concerns where multiple vendors hold different versions of the same patient record that are not validated, resulting in errors, inconsistency and incompleteness. To top it, the reports of security breaches, tampering of personal data and the ever-present hacking threat, it’s not surprising that the system is proclaimed to be broken.

Since blockchains are cryptographically secure and the data present therein can be authenticated using a digital signature that is unique to each person, this technology could be the answer to most of such concerns. Blockchain technologies have advanced and matured to hold the promise to unite the disparate processes in the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare ecosystem, reduce costs, improve regulatory compliance, increase data flow, and improve patient experience and outcomes. Better data sharing among healthcare providers would mean a higher probability of accurate diagnoses, more effective treatments, and the overall increased ability of healthcare organizations to deliver cost-effective care. Blockchain technologies allow stakeholders in the healthcare value-chain to share access to their networks without compromising data security and integrity, by allowing them to track data provenance as well as any changes made.

Blockchain can tie together complex team-based healthcare, finance and payment with the care provided along with it. The inherent properties of cryptographic public and private key access, proof of work and distributed data, creates a new level of integrity for healthcare information. Blockchain technology also makes it easy to track a drug as it moves from the manufacturer to the patient. This improves the traceability of a drug as it moves across the supply chain, and helps prevent drug counterfeiting. Blockchain provides frictionless connectivity, strengthened by smart contracts and authorization to access all electronic health data. Its transaction layer can enable instantaneous access to a diverse set of standardized, anonymous and non-patient identifiable information. Transparency and automation can also lead to higher efficiency and lower administrative costs. It is a phased approach rather than an instant overhaul of systems and hence is suited to the healthcare sector.

The healthcare industry is on the verge of disruption in its digital infrastructure. Since the current system does not fully support the security or interoperability that is inherently necessary, the introduction of blockchain is the need of the hour. To utilize collected medical data to its maximum potential, data portability and interoperability of records between systems is a must. With the advent of wearables and numerous new IoT devices that are interconnected with their data flows harnessed, better security is needed and readily accessible to healthcare professionals. All these challenges could be minimized with the help of blockchain technology and its interoperability, integrity and security, and portable user-owned data. The trend of blockchain solution implementation in healthcare is expected to rise from 16% in 2017 to 56% in 2020 with major barriers being the high cost of development and untested technology.

Prominent Use Cases for Healthcare

Blockchain has the potential to propel innovation in preventative care and community-based healthcare models. The capacity of a distributed ledger technology for ensuring data integrity while sharing between parties can ensure collaboration between rising trends in healthcare, which are vital to the improvement of health in communities worldwide.

  • Enable patient records to securely link and be accessible across non-affiliated provider organizations to improve care coordination in cases of medical emergencies
  • Automated health insurance claims adjustments via “smart contract”
  • Overcome current patient data interoperability issues and gather the information needed to effectively support population health initiatives for health systems
  • Medical Emergency System (MES) on blockchain to help people involved in accidental situations get the correct diagnosis

The two major questions that are to be taken into consideration while using a specific blockchain such as Ethereum or Hyperledger Fabric to develop a solution for one or all of the above-mentioned use cases are:

  1. How will the ID and data security be maintained? Hyperledger Fabric provides permissioned access for greater security but the issues with simultaneous transaction speed and scalability are greater when compared with solutions being built on Ethereum, which themselves do not provide the same level of security but with net cypher and the hybrid validation methods in the pipeline; things are looking up
  2. Can the scalability be achieved for one specific solution? I believe it is to early to comment on this. A multichain solution with a distributed database would be something that will cover the three Ss’ — Security, Scalability and Speed!

To sum it up, I would like to state that the time is right to understand and to adopt this technology to improve the current healthcare record management system because in a few years with IoT, most of the things will be running on this.

Blockchain learner, enthusiast and mentor