Sharing is Caring: How Blockchain Eases Data Challenges in Healthcare

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Sharing is Caring: How Blockchain Eases Data Challenges in Healthcare
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Quality healthcare services and solutions are important to all of us. The first thing that comes to mind when we think about healthcare is healing patients. From medicines to surgeries and medical equipment, pricing and insurance are usually something to consider as well. However, there are many challenges healthcare services have to cope with that we do not usually think about. One of them is the difficulties of handling sensitive data. Patients’ personal information stored by the healthcare institutions’ central systems must be well-protected, while it can also be shared quickly and accurately between different parties. This data is often very private. Think of your heart rate, blood pressure or sleep rhythm. This type of information is not something we want to share with strangers, making us vulnerable if it falls into the wrong hands. 

No wonder healthcare institutions are a major target for cyber attacks. Centrally-managed data allows for a single point of failures, which are easier to attack. The maintenance of central systems and the associated data security measures are very expensive. The data goes through several intermediaries, introducing more errors and data breaches on the way. The implementation of a strict regulatory framework and compliance standards can help mitigate these issues, but the real focus of the industry is on alternative data systems, including blockchain technology. After all, experts predict that adopting blockchain technology could save healthcare institutions $100 – $150 billion in 2025. What do current blockchain experiments in the healthcare sector look like and how do they alleviate healthcare institutions’ data challenges?

All parties benefit

Healthcare institutions must comply with HIPAA in order for data from patients to meet privacy standards. SimplyVitalHealth is one of the organizations that combines HIPAA with blockchain technology. They create infrastructure that makes the exchange of patient data cheaper, faster, and safer. This concerns, for example, the exchange of data between healthcare institutions and insurers. The increased speed of data exchange allows healthcare institutions to recover the covered costs for prescribed medicines and treatments from insurers more quickly. At the same time, insurers have their data faster, with better analytical predictions helping to adjust their business operations and lower the risk of fraud. This is because blockchain technology ensures that no duplicate, incorrect, or adjustable data is generated. It also makes a lot of intermediaries unnecessary. Reducing costs for providers and insurers, blockchain allows for more cost-effective treatments for patients.

Preventing cyber attacks and raising integrity

Cyber attacks present major threats for healthcare institutions. The data that could be stolen is sensitive and also very expensive – 3 times more expensive than an average record. According to IBM, this makes data breaches in the healthcare industry the most expensive out there. What can help is an alternative means of data storage. Factom uses blockchain technology to store digital health records. Its products help healthcare industry safely store digital records on the company’s blockchain platform, making them accessible only to hospitals and healthcare administrators. Patient’s digital identities can be created on the blockchain and cannot be duplicated. Factom also makes it possible to give a patient ownership of his or her data via a mobile medical wallet. All this makes fraud, errors and manipulation of data virtually impossible, which is a major improvement, especially for patients and healthcare institutions in developing countries, where businesses and institutions can be especially prone to fraud.

Speeding up drug development through blockchain

Pharmaceutical companies, including the big names in the industry such as Pfizer, Sanofi or Amgen are looking for ways to streamline the way they conduct research and produce medications. Turns out their research data can be shared faster and more efficiently via blockchains. Using the new technology can benefit the quality and speed of clinical trials, which are key to continuing development of life-saving medicines. A good example are consent forms that different parties must sign during a clinical trial. These forms can be made transparent and traceable via the blockchain. In this way the parties know for certain that they are not dealing with fake, copied or just the wrong medicines and the agreements are clear and accessible. This is how blockchain tech can lower the cost of medicines and ultimately trickle down to impact the patient.

Raising awareness of what blockchain is about

Unfortunately, surveys from Stanford Business School show that the healthcare sector is having a difficult time supporting blockchain. This is because blockchains are often linked to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum and can be associated with market manipulation or cyber crime. No wonder Patientory – an blockchain company that facilitates the integration of blockchain in health practices – is hosting BlockHealth Summit to bring about more collaboration and awareness of blockchain technology in the field. Hundreds of healthcare professionals come together. These kinds of events are a crucial part in shifting the perception on blockchain and on educating health professionals about how it can benefit the healthcare sector.

The ongoing blockchain projects serve as an attempt to tackle challenges that are more persistent in the healthcare sector than in any other. The new technology offers an alternative way of handling data that promises to help protect and exchange it as well as make its management cheap and efficient. Blockchain can make third parties redundant. A decentralized database is transparent and cannot be modified, which protects the integrity of all parties. Costs saved due to limiting errors and data leakage as well as enabling rapid switching between institutions can be make treatments for patients more affordable. Digital identities via blockchain can allow patients to own their medical profiles. Potential benefits for healthcare are undeniable, yet the speed of blockchain adoption by companies and institutions in the field will be decided based on the education and awareness raising efforts. 

Contributed by @LordCatoshi

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