Blockchain technology can be defined as a decentralised, consensus-driven, public digital append-only ledger used to record transactions across multiple computers in an encrypted manner.
This digital data-transferring technology is a peer-to-peer system, which means that no single entity or third-party can take control of the information on the blockchain, facilitating the distribution of ownership. Transactions are validated by the users of the blockchain, therefore, new information will be added to the ledger, without editing, changing or modifying the previous content, unless a consensus is reached (i.e. ≥51% of users within the network). Increased trust can be established through smart contracts, where parties rely on contracts that are automatically enforced when pre-determined conditions are met.
Applications and uses
Implementing a blockchain-powered health information exchange could unlock the true value of interoperability, improved data integrity, accessibility, disintermediation of trust, secure access, and reduced transaction costs. Blockchain technology does offer a promising new distributed framework to amplify and support integration of healthcare information across a range of uses and stakeholders.
The main use cases of a blockchain ecosystem in the healthcare space are as follows:
- Supply chain
- Clinical trials
- Provider directory management
- Electronic Health Record (EHR)
- Health insurance
The drug supply chain is a very complex process involving many transactions, and throughout the entire process adhering to strict regulations is of upmost importance. Currently, manufacturers have little transparency of the supply chain process to track authenticity, which is a main concern. Blockchain can provide the means to transform the supply chain in two ways.
Firstly, it can harness the Internet of Things (IoT) using smart contracts to improve the security, efficiency and reliability of the supply chain.
Secondly, as a product of using the IoT, it can tackle the large problem of stolen or counterfeit pills entering the supply chain and reaching patients.
The advantages of using a blockchain-based solution in the pharmaceutical supply chain include: reduced complexity and costs, prevention of drug counterfeit, ensured good distribution practice (GDP), enhanced security, proven resilience, shared and trusted transactions, creation of an audit trail and enhanced transparency between authorised parties.
Blockchain technology has the potential to directly increase the quantity and quality of patients recruited for clinical trials by allowing individual patients to store their medical data anonymously making it visible for trial recruiters, to contact the patients who might be a good fit for a specific clinical trial. Moreover, it might facilitate the communication between doctors and patients during the trial. Since, blockchain has the capacity to provide smart contracts, which endorse data transparency and traceability over the duration of the trial, it could also be used to compensate participants with financial incentives.
Provider directory management
Blockchain’s ability to secure data and distribute it in an encrypted way to make sure the most current information is available in health plan provider directories, could avoid the all too common problem that occurs when a claim comes through from the provider and it mismatches with the information the insurance company has in its provider directory. Health plans with out-of-date information can cause patient claims to be unpaid and administrative headaches for physicians and their office staffs.
The growing focus on care coordination and EHR access across the care continuum has raised questions about how to ensure that multiple providers can view, edit, and share patient data while still maintaining an authoritative and up-to-date record of diagnoses, medications, and services rendered. Blockchain’s ability to use time stamping to authenticate changes to a dataset, even if more than one user has permission to edit a document, which is ideal for managing EHR data.
Blockchain could facilitate the creation of a more comprehensive, secure, and interoperable repository of health information by streamlining back-office operations, improving capabilities to deter and detect fraud by providers, claimants or applicants, upgrading the reliability of provider directories for health plans, simplifying and shortening the insurance application process, supporting the information and growth of online insurance exchanges and alternative forms of insurance (e.g. peer-to-peer coverage groups) and facilitating near-real-time health status monitoring and more dynamic pricing.
Alex Navarro, Product Lifecycle Analyst Intern