Using Blockchain in Healthcare
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Using Blockchain in Healthcare

Data storage and protection using blockchain technology is a popular topic of discussion across various industries, not just limited to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Healthcare, supply chain, and charity are some of the sectors where it has been explored. The healthcare industry, in particular, has gained significant attention due to its potential use cases.

Basics

The security features inherent in cryptocurrency blockchains are transferrable to medical data storage due to the use of cryptography and distributed systems. These characteristics make it almost impossible to alter the data without the approval of all network participants, creating an immutable database for medical records.

Additionally, the peer-to-peer architecture enables synchronization of patient records across all copies, despite them being stored on different computers. Each network node holds a complete copy of the blockchain and regularly communicates to ensure data is accurate and up-to-date. Hence, decentralization and data distribution are also essential components.

It is important to note that although blockchains are distributed, they are not always decentralized concerning governance. Decentralization levels vary depending on node distribution and overall architecture, and distributed systems can range from fully centralized to completely decentralized. Healthcare blockchains are usually built as private networks, unlike public ones used for cryptocurrencies. Private blockchains require permission and are managed by a smaller number of nodes, whereas anyone can contribute to the development of a public blockchain.

Potential Advantages

Increased Security

  • Utilizes the immutability of blockchain to eliminate concerns about data corruption
  • Offers more secure data exchange and reduced administrative costs compared to traditional centralized databases
  • Less susceptible to technical failures and external attacks that compromise sensitive information
  • Especially useful for hospitals, which often face cyber-attacks and ransomware breaches

Interoperability

  • Improves interoperability among healthcare providers, including clinics and hospitals
  • Allows authorized parties to access a unified database of patient files or medicine distribution records
  • Eliminates the need for healthcare providers to interface with each other's internal storage systems and enables them to collaborate on a single platform

Accessibility and Transparency

  • Increases accessibility and transparency regarding patients' health information
  • Allows patients to request validation of any changes made to their documents and ensures the accuracy of their medical records
  • Provides an extra layer of security against both human error and intentional falsifications

Reliable Supply Chain Management

  • Offers an effective solution for tracking pharmaceuticals throughout the entire manufacturing and distribution process, reducing the problem of counterfeit drugs
  • Combines the use of IoT devices for measuring temperature and other factors to authenticate drug quality and ensure that proper storage and shipping conditions are maintained

Insurance Fraud Protection

  • Helps address medical insurance fraud, which costs the US healthcare system an estimated $68 billion annually
  • Creates unalterable records that can be shared with insurance providers to prevent some of the most prevalent types of fraud, including billing for services not rendered and charging for unnecessary treatments

Clinical Trials Recruiting

  • Enhances the quality of clinical trials by utilizing medical data on blockchains to identify suitable patients for drug tests
  • Enables better enrollment for clinical trials as patients may not always be aware of relevant drug trials
  • Could be used to maintain data integrity during clinical trials

Potential Limitations

Some challenges need to be addressed before blockchain can achieve widespread adoption in the medical industry, despite its numerous benefits for patients and providers.

In the US, healthcare companies considering the adoption of blockchain technology must comply with data regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). HIPAA sets standards for data storage, sharing, and protection in the healthcare industry, meaning that US-based companies would need to deploy customized blockchain record systems with increased privacy features and limited accessibility to be fully compliant.

However, on the provider end, blockchain solutions are likely to require a high initial investment, hindering wider adoption. Furthermore, distributed systems tend to be slower than centralized systems in terms of transactions per second, which could be problematic for huge databases that need to store and track information for millions of patients. This problem is particularly concerning for large image files, such as computed tomography or MRI scans.

Conclusion

Blockchain technology offers various promising applications in healthcare, including immutable medical records and improved transparency in the pharmaceutical supply chain. However, there are several challenges to overcome before widespread adoption, including technical, logistical, and regulatory issues. Despite these challenges, the deployment of blockchain systems is likely to have a significant impact on the storage and transfer of medical data in the future.

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