The technological advancements of blockchain in healthcare are taking the industry by a storm. Data fragmentation, rising drug discovery costs, lack of transaction traceability, and patient data security issues have kept pharmaceuticals and healthcare providers from achieving the efficiency, integrity, and transparency expected of them. However, with blockchain entering the picture, a lot is set to change. Its decentralized ledger system offers trust and consensus – the two essential ingredients that make blockchain a novelty.
As per reports, the global blockchain in healthcare market was valued at USD 1497.28 million in 2020 and is forecasted to reach USD 7308.32 million by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 76.30% from 2021 to 2028.
Healthcare challenges that blockchain is mitigating
1. Lack of transparency
Healthcare Information Exchanges (HIEs) deal with a constant influx of sensitive information and are responsible for its storage, access control, and secured data sharing. However, disconnected systems are a culprit for several inefficiencies and a major hurdle for healthcare research. Moreover, trust issues and the high costs that entail sharing, collecting and analyzing this information make it impossible to establish a unified system. Blockchain’s distributed storage facility enables proper management of healthcare data making HIEs more secure, cost-efficient, and interoperable. Additionally, it also opens in-roads for treatments to be more patient-centric, as both researchers and practitioners get access to holistic patient data.
2. High cost and timeline of drug discovery
Every clinical trial involves a substantial investment of time and resources. The need to justify these expenditures has often led to fabricating the truth. Lack of transparency and traceability has raised the stakes, leaving patients and government organizations in a sea of uncertainty and distrust. Fortunately, blockchain is helping reinstate this confidence by locking in scores of data recorded at each trial stage and making it unalterable without unanimous consent.
From electronic informed consent in clinical trials to tamper-proof reporting processes, blockchain in healthcare is witnessing a rising adoption. Moreover, blockchain-based solutions can also provide mechanisms to share clinical trial data competitively, thus, reducing the timelines of drug discovery research. Additionally, the ability to share medical samples securely and review patient data in real time is a real boon for patients with chronic disorders.
3. Medical data breaches
For healthcare providers to offer an early and accurate diagnosis, data integrity and accountability is imperative. The ever-growing volume of medical data generated by connected devices makes it difficult to manage and safeguard sensitive patient information. Smart contracts can act as an effective recording-keeping solution by assigning each patient with an exclusive digital identity. This blockchain solution enables a seamless integration of medical records distributed across a continually-synced network. This way patients can share their complete medical history in real time across a slew of healthcare service providers, enabling increased operational efficiency. Smart contracts are especially gaining ground in the health insurance sector, as it helps identify any change in the asset outside the policy realm, in real time.
4. Counterfeit drugs
Counterfeit or substandard drugs are one of the top supply chain vulnerabilities plaguing the industry. Weak links in the supply chain network make drugs highly susceptible to tampering. It’s also important that buyers have a granular view of the different stages – from production, storage to distribution to ensure optimal quality and consistency. Owing to the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), a slew of healthcare organizations are turning to blockchain-enabled services in order to get a transparent view of the entire network. Electronically interoperable systems allow manufacturers and distributors to provide tracking information through shared ledgers with automatic verification. This is putting greater control and autonomy in the buyer’s hands thereby improving delivery management, minimizing delays, and eliminating intermediaries.
The benefits of using blockchain in healthcare
Let’s take a look at the three aspects of blockchain technology that are directly applicable and advantageous for the healthcare industry.
1. Decentralization of health data
Blockchain’s distributed ledger technology (DLT) infrastructure could be far superior to current centralized solutions for accessing, extending, and securing the data because healthcare data is already shared among numerous stakeholders. Due to lower overhead and fewer intermediaries, decentralized systems are also more cost-effective, can help speed up transactions, and be more effective than centralized systems.
While it may not be able to completely decentralize the healthcare system due to regulatory restrictions, blockchain technology can still store and process patient data and help provide a secure database for reputable ecosystems including hospitals, insurance firms, clinics, labs, and health information exchanges (HIEs), to access.
For instance, through its decentralized network, Chronicled, a blockchain-based solution provider, powered by MediLedger Network, connects business partners and healthcare organizations closer than ever. It makes way for significantly greater innovation and industrial development because there is no longer a constant risk of organizational and communication errors.
For true interoperability, it enables finely customizable accessibility while upholding the highest security standards. In turn, this makes it possible for health information systems to collaborate both within and outside of organizational boundaries, advancing the efficient provision of healthcare to individuals and society.
2. Well-established and secure storage of information
With blockchain technology fully implemented in healthcare, patients and healthcare professionals can freely share health data without worrying about being hacked and having the data stolen. Greater data transparency is a further advantage of storing healthcare data in a safe blockchain data repository.
Due to a lack of transparency in the healthcare industry, insurance, and billing fraud has reached tens of billions of dollars in size. Blockchain would likely lower the incidence of fraud and errors since all medical charges and procedures may be made accessible in the context of the patient’s medical treatment with the data cryptographically authenticated and encrypted.
Blockchain systems can help enable greater trust among all stakeholders because they can all share the same concrete health data through their networks. This would result in less of a need for medical personnel to make decisions based on incomplete information, for patients to repeatedly repeat their medical history, or for patients to struggle with memory.
For example, the Ever Network, a blockchain-based health information exchange (HIE) firm, offers an EHR solution that can be easily implemented even in hospital networks that already exist. It not only connects more than 170 hospitals and 5 million patients, but also offers an integrated yet modular software package with protected and traceable data exchanges, big data collection and analysis, and tools and features powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence.
3. Built-in gamification
The tokenization of healthcare services and the use of tokens open up various opportunities for incentivizing or “paying” patients and other players in the healthcare ecosystem. Block rewards for nodes that safeguard the blockchain or carry out transactions are examples of this. It may also include token rewards for living a healthier lifestyle (better nutrition, more exercise, fewer vices, etc.), sharing healthcare data with the medical community and/or pharmaceutical businesses.
Gamification strategies have shown promise in some healthcare applications, particularly those that aim to change negative behavior, but they haven’t yet been widely deployed. Players in the healthcare ecosystem can achieve their objectives more quickly and equitably around the globe with the help of blockchain apps that optimize their incentive mechanics.
For instance, healthcare startup Goquii is in the process of developing a metaverse ecosystem, using blockchain technology, where users can earn NFTs in a gamified health space. It is partnering with game software and venture capital firm Animoca, to develop “various offerings that leverage blockchain tokens and gamification in preventive health care.” Then, users can use the tokens to make purchases, participate in special events, or buy NFTs, which can later be exchanged for cryptocurrencies outside the Goquii network
The way ahead
The foundation of innovation and adaptability that blockchain technology offers is one of its most fascinating features. Although the limits of today’s technology will apply to its initial application, blockchain’s open nature will foster and promote industry-wide development for years to come. According to a study, the rapid deployment and integration of blockchain in healthcare could reduce expenses associated with IT, operations, support functions, personnel, and health data breaches by more than USD 100 billion annually by 2025.
Although many creative and intriguing blockchain solutions have already been developed by leading businesses throughout the world, this is just the beginning. Now is the time for healthcare organizations to embrace innovation and take part in this transformation to help advance medical technology while creating the groundwork for a data-driven future that will lead to medical advancements on a larger scale.
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