We have heard a lot of talk about Blockchain over the last few years in reference to technology and how it can revolutionise data collection, storage, and information sharing.
Blockchain can be viewed as a set of data that remains in place with somewhat of a time stamp. When other data is added, the information around the first set remains undisturbed, and subsequent data is stamped with its own time-and-placement information. What this does is prevent information tampering, no matter what device on which the information is accessed, and provides a comprehensive log of everything that is included in the database in a systematic way.
As the name suggests, we can think of it as a chain whose links increase based on the data added – each piece of data would be considered a link in the chain.
Blockchain was first used when the cryptocurrency era emerged as a way to enable safe and secure data storage and tracking but has since been applied to several disciplines. Healthcare is one such industry. The need for privacy, accuracy, and trust in healthcare data makes it a major candidate for the use of Blockchain to achieve secure, accurate, and chronologically maintained in formation.
One of the most obvious ways in which Blockchain can be applied to healthcare is through the electronic medical records (EMR) as a way of maintaining the integrity of patient data. The objective, at least for some healthcare visionaries, to decentralise the EMR so that it can be accessed by any of the patient’s physicians, anywhere in the world, makes it an apt candidate for Blockchain technology. This is because it would be difficult for any one person to tamper with the records or change anything previously put in place. In short, there would have to be accountability and easy tracking, which augers well for the veracity of patient’s health history and overall care.
IMMENSE VALUE TO HEALTHCARE
A study that appeared in the International Journal of Intelligent Networks in 2021 by Haleem et al, underscores the thought that Blockchain can bring immense value to healthcare, one way being through the protection of patient records.
“Blockchain can guarantee the confidentiality of patient records. When medical history is developed, Blockchain can also store it, and this record cannot be modified,” the study said.
This is not to say that errors in transcriptions and doctor’s notes cannot be fixed. It simply means that all information – the original and amendment – would appear along the ‘chain’.
Outside of EMR, Blockchain has a wide range of usage in the healthcare industry. According to stlpartners.com, these include supply-chain transparency, medical staff credential verification, remote monitoring of information on various devices (the Internet of things), and patient-centric data management and access. Improved security in the sharing of research data, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, is another way in which Blockchain can be used.
The World Health Organization’s World Health Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2025 posits that Blockchain is one of several new technologies that will enhance the delivery of healthcare in the future.
In objective one of the plan, the WHO indicates that it will seek to “promote health innovations where appropriate including cutting-edge digital technologies, such as the use of artificial intelligence, Blockchain and big data analytics, and other emerging techniques and solutions in the health sector” in the short term – one to two years.
While Blockchain increases the safety and integrity of data, it is important to note that it is not a fool-proof system and is subject to hacking much like any other technology. However, this is much more difficult to achieve but should still be treated as though there could be vulnerabilities and the requisite care taken to protect health data.
There is no reason why the digitisation of healthcare should not use every asset available to improve population and individual health as well as the entire healthcare system.
Blockchain is among such tools that can be utilised at the care level as well as research level to improve results and find solutions to age-old health problems plaguing the system.
Published: Sunday | October 9, 2022 | 12:06 AM Doug Halsall - Contributor