Varun Gera

Varun Gera, Founder & CEO, HealthAssure.

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Is Blockchain Paving the Way for Better Healthcare?

Indian healthcare too, is going the digital way and with the passing of the new Digital Information Security in Health Care Act (DISHA) being passed, a support structure like Blockchain could be a game-changer.

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Any advancement in healthcare translates to better outcomes and impacts the lives of people all around the world. But there is so much more to the healthcare industry than medicine – it is a powerhouse of information about doctors, patients and their health records. Information, that needs to be kept safe and secure, and yet be readily available to those who need it.

The use of technology behind the scenes, therefore, is rapidly becoming the new norm in the healthcare industry. Better data management is key to building a scalable and sustainable healthcare ecosystem. The current technology systems, however, are put under strain by the current healthcare standards, making care expensive, while at the same time not improving patient care. But all that is about to change with the new technology trend on the block – Blockchain.

When we hear the word blockchain, we immediately think of cryptocurrency and Bitcoin. So what does it have to do with healthcare? A lot, as it turns out! According to Deloitte, Blockchain technology has the potential to transform healthcare, placing the patient at the centre of the healthcare ecosystem and increasing the security, privacy and interoperability of health data.

A Peek into Blockchain

Though Blockchain was born in the financial industry, health and life insurers are investigating how it can be adopted to improve the way we maintain health records, execute transactions and interact with stakeholders. This technology can facilitate the creation of a more comprehensive, secure and interoperable repository of health information. This means better health records, smarter contracts, early fraud detection, improved provider detector accuracy, simplified application, and more dynamic insurer-client relationships.

To understand how, we need to first understand blockchain itself. Essentially, it is a distributed system that records and digitally stores transaction records through shared, peer-to-peer transactions built from linked transaction blocks. Interactions using blockchain become known to all participants and require verification by the network before information is added. Thus it enables ‘trustless’ collaboration between network participants while recording an immutable audit trail of all interactions.

In simple terms, Blockchain is similar to a database which stores information, the difference being that the data is located in a network of personal computers called nodes where there is no central entity such as a government or bank controlling the data. Instead, all data is shared publicly although the contents of each data is only accessible to those with permission.

A Boon for Healthcare?

So how can it help improve healthcare? The healthcare industry is ripe for disruption by emerging technologies and we already see a shift towards trends in AI, mobile technology and electronic health records (EHRs). However, at the backend, it is riddled with non-optimal practices, from failing to publish relevant results to errors to outright fraud, all of which have a serious impact on patient care. Blockchains are immutable, which means that they could be used to record trials and related information, laying the research process open to scrutiny and verification, leading to a more transparent and efficient healthcare ecosystem.

Indian healthcare too, is going the digital way and with the passing of the new Digital Information Security in Health Care Act (DISHA) being passed, a support structure like Blockchain could be a game-changer. The purpose of the act is to provide for electronic health data privacy, confidentiality, security and standardization, and also provide for establishment of National Digital Health Authority and Health Information Exchanges. An effective infrastructure for secure and authorised exchange of digital health data such as blockchain is therefore a sensible choice.

Here are some ways blockchain can help transform problem areas in healthcare:

  • Error-free medical records: Patient health records often suffer from inaccuracy or discrepancies, and keeping these sensitive documents secure and accurate can be a challenge for healthcare professionals due to having different systems for storing information. In the case of prescriptions, for instance, each healthcare entity that a patient deals with has its own database for patient medications and prescriptions. By having a ‘prescription blockchain’, however,  healthcare providers can get an accurate, immediate view into a patient’s medications, both past and present, which would result in better, more personalised treatment.
  • Encourage evidence-based treatment: Informatics is set to become instrumental to develop evidence-based nursing and medical practices. There is massive amounts of patient data collected today through a wide range of portals and devices that needs to be managed seamlessly so better healthcare outcomes can be achieved. Blockchain technology can record and maintain this data which can be analysed and subsequently leveraged to improve healthcare procedures and strategies.
  • Better access: If crucial information is scattered and inaccessible, even a few extra seconds to obtain critical information could be the difference between life and death for a patient. Blockchain systems for healthcare can ensure that important health-related data is more easily accessible among healthcare providers, which can lead to better and faster treatment.
  • Better security: With the most intimate of health information being collected today, patients can be vulnerable to manipulation by hackers. In fact, hospitals and health care systems have become a prime target for ransomware attacks. With blockchain, this sensitive information can be distributed and stored amongst verified parties, preventing such dangerous attacks.
  • Easy Recoverability: Paper-based records, and even electronic records are sometimes destroyed or misplaced. However, with blockchain being a distributed system, the data can be patched and recovered from other alive sources, unlike in traditional storages, even if certain nodes are lost, leading to easy recoverability of sensitive patient records.

The Future

Though Blockchain technology isn’t the final answer to healthcare woes, it is a rapidly evolving field that provides fertile ground for experimentation, investment, and proof-of-concept testing. According to a study by IBM, more than 50% of global healthcare executives expect to implement commercial blockchain solutions by 2020, with 17% expecting to have deployed blockchain applications at scale in 2017. It would be wise for futuristic healthcare organizations to begin investigating blockchain applications and building internal expertise through strategic hiring and technical training. However, several technical, organizational, and behavioural economics challenges must be addressed before a healthcare blockchain can be adopted by organizations, especially in India.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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