While many people are familiar with the use of blockchain in applications such as digital currencies like Bitcoin, its potential expands far beyond decentralized banking. This radically disruptive technology contains the potential to create secure, tamper-evident electronic records that are easily sharable, and consistent across a large network, making its use in healthcare invaluable.
Since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, there has been a lot of attention on how to improve medical record keeping. The use of electronic health records (EHRs) quickly skyrocketed in response to standardization across the industry with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and corresponding financial incentives to adopt the new technology systems. The overall goal of which was to induce greater interoperability between EHR systems to improve patient coordination and care.
Over the years though, these systems have proven less than ideal. With centralized data collection, systems crashes (including hacks) can prevent access to data, patient data is often scattered across multiple systems as many still silo information, and data sharing has not been optimized between systems. Switching to blockchain can help solve these problems.
At a very basic level, blockchain is a distributed database that is shared among nodes of a computer network to store digital information in a way that it can be recorded and shared but not edited without ready detection. This network of nodes creates redundancy in the system to maintain the availability and accuracy of the data. Unlike centralized data storage, if one computer or system is down, others can still reliably access the data.
Removes central controlling authority
Blockchain’s network of nodes removes the need for one central controlling authority. Over the past few decades, consumers have become more comfortable trading their data for “free” services or programs such as Facebook and Google. In recent years though, we are recognizing more and more the cost of this supposed free tradeoff. From congressional hearings and antitrust committees, to a growing discomfort with the lack of control over personal data, people are starting to recognize the true worth of data and the cost of giving control over to an outside party. This transition to individuals having control of their data and how it is used is sometimes referred to as moving from a Web2 to a Web3 system. Blockchain is the key technology that Web3 is built upon.
With blockchain, a network of members can have different levels of authority over the same data, without the need for an intermediary to validate or authorize it. The network itself is secure and impartial. There is no single point of entry and no single point of failure.
Improves security and data protection
Because of this decentralization, blockchain creates a secure ledger of incorruptible data. If someone tries to improperly alter the data or hack into the system, the decentralization and redundant nature of the system readily detects it. The altered data is compared to existing blocks of data on other nodes, and if it does not match up, the system can discard the changes. In order to improperly alter the data, more than half of the network would need to be hacked at the same time, making blockchain more resistant to the cyber-crime that plagues current systems.
To access these secure ledgers, users need cryptographic keys and signatures that control their access level and permissions. The security of blockchain also increases as the number of users grows since more nodes will be available to check the data against and call out bad actors and changes.
Additionally, new information is stored chronologically, always adding to the end of the “chain.” Each time data is added, the system checks to ensure the user had permission to do this and that the data is valid. When someone makes a purchase with Bitcoin, for example, the system performs an internal check to ensure that the user first had that amount to spend.
Provides personal health record data management
In contrast to centralized data storage, where one party controls access and sharing, blockchain enables patients to take control over how their data is used. Currently, healthcare facilities still use fax machines to share data, a less than ideal, insecure and slow solution. This method also creates gaps in records as only part of a patient’s data can be shared between facilities due to the complexity and time-consuming nature of faxing or sharing between different EHR systems.
A comprehensive, single and shared source would allow for a more complete patient record that could be accessed at will instead of relying on a third party to send over the data, allowing patients to give new and existing physicians better visibility to their complete medical record.
Many people now have health data outside of the traditional medical system with wearable technology and smartphone apps. Today, this information is rarely considered by healthcare professionals, but aggregating all of our health data allows for a more comprehensive view of a patient’s current health and can help providers and patients recognize trends in the data.
Facilitates the easy sharing of data in a secure and controlled manner
Putting data in the hands of patients also has implications for health research. With a complete data file, patients could choose to share specific information with researchers, while still preserving control over their data and maintaining confidentiality.
The easy sharing of data also frees up administrative time and resources that would otherwise have been devoted to mundane tasks; reducing costs and allowing healthcare facilities to focus more on improving care.
Increases supply chain transparency
As recent years have shown us, effective supply chain management in healthcare can be a life-or-death situation. And with increasing globalization and regulations, come increasing complications. Blockchain can help identify bottlenecks to improve efficiency by creating an inexpensive and easily accessible tracking information ledger. Perhaps more importantly, this system provides a way to quickly identify counterfeit medical products and pharmaceuticals or those created with poor manufacturing standards.
These are just a few examples of how switching to a decentralized, blockchain and Web3 system could help improve healthcare systems around the world and lead to improved medical care, efficient and cost-effective administration, and better research with access to an accurate and secure health database.
At Equideum Health, we are focused on creating solutions to these and other problems in the healthcare industry. Using a secure, compliant, blockchain approach, our goal is to advance healthcare by building next-generation critical infrastructure leveraging decentralized artificial intelligence, blockchain, and confidential computing to accelerate the deployment of Web3 applications that address chronic industry pain points.