How Blockchain Might Transform the Healthcare Industry
The healthcare industry has issues that need to be addressed in order for patients to receive the best possible healthcare, resulting in more positive patient outcomes, more often. From the time a patient enters a hospital or healthcare facility, the clock starts ticking. Patients need to fill in forms, get captured onto the system, receive triage, and only then can they receive the treatment that they need. What makes matters even more difficult is the fact that the average patient often needs to visit the same doctor multiple times, be prescribed different drugs and therapies, and, in some cases, the patient will be referred to another doctor or hospital in addition to the existing treatment regiments that they might be receiving.
Next, we need to consider that not all medical networks are linked, which means that vital medical records are not shared digitally between institutions, adding more time taken for patients to be processed so that proper medical care can be administered timeously. The bureaucratic nature of healthcare systems does not help to speed things up either. This causes delays when files need to be manually requested, if they are available at all. Researchers and developers have identified the short comings of the current information technology systems, and are starting to recreate healthcare record keeping systems with Blockchain at the very core. Can Blockchain help to solve this and other problems that the healthcare industry is currently experiencing?
Current Issues in Healthcare IT Systems and the Solutions that Blockchain Provides
Before we look at the solutions to the growing problems in healthcare IT systems, we need to understand the issues that it is going through right now. Some of these problems might not even seem like problems, mainly because we have become so accustomed to the way that hospitals and clinics currently keep their patient records on site. It is only once we see the potential of Blockchain based systems that we can really appreciate just how far behind the field of healthcare is. The main issues currently affecting healthcare IT systems are:
Security Issues: Data breaches are a real threat for healthcare systems, as confidential information is stolen and then leveraged in criminal activities. Blockchain has the potential to prevent this scourge by locking down information into cryptographically secured databases, making it very difficult for any outside parties to read information that is stored within it. Data is also impossible to alter without gaining consensus from all other nodes on the ledger, making it virtually immune to external malicious activities.
Isolated Information Stores: Medical records are generally not shared across different healthcare providers, and the information that is shared is limited, and vulnerable to manipulation. There are currently plans afoot around the world that seek to migrate healthcare systems over to a Blockchain based system.
Instances of Fraud and Theft: Fraud in the medical sector occurs when patients and/or medical practitioners inflate costs or steal supplies and medication. This is not always detectable, especially where legacy systems and infrastructure are in use.
Current Challenges for Healthcare in General
As the medical infrastructure starts to take strain under the growing patient loads, traditional methods of diagnosis and treatment are proving to be a bottleneck in treating and providing optimal care for patients. Medical research for patient care, as well as pharmaceutical development have traditionally been based on incremental improvements that take decades to perfect, which means that medical progress does not simply occur over night. Blockchain can help with all of these challenges, as the way that it is able to store, validate, and secure information is vastly improved over the current state of information system storage technologies.
If you then add other new and emerging technologies to Blockchain, then you can really start to see how the future of medicine and healthcare is shaping up. These additional technologies include Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. AI and ML work together with Blockchain technologies in ways that make advanced data analytics possible, while making the data that it interacts with very secure. AI and ML technologies can identify seemingly unrelated patterns, which is especially useful when trying to design drugs to combat diseases like cancer.
IoT devices are used in conjunction with Blockchain to ensure the safe handling of logistics, such as medical equipment and medicines. This makes the tracking of movements of these items very easy, and very accurate. Supply chain managers can now look at their consignments’ movements in real-time, taking the guess work out of delivery schedules, which allows for even better planning and strategizing on their part, which benefits patients in the long run.
As we have seen, Blockchain is more than just a single point of evolution for medical and healthcare institutions, but is instead a whole host of additional features and functions. It adds security to data storage, validation to large data sets, and speed across large national networks that need concurrent access to the same data sets. Authentication is really secure, thanks to the way that Blockchain validates entries against its ledger, making it impossible for any single entity to update values and change figures within a database. All of these advancements on their own have the potential to add a much needed breath of fresh air into the healthcare industry, but when taking the whole suite of features into consideration as a new set of tools, it has the potential to be a real game changer.