We were bombarded by healthcare news during 2020 and even in 2021 – relentless coverage of the pandemic and reaction, gaudy figures punctuated with insight into what should have been achieved differently – but the information system that underpins the health systems that so many of us have counted on received little attention. And the irony is that, despite all of the change and advancement in the healthcare industry, the data systems and information technologies that underpin it have largely lagged.
The current state of healthcare information systems is very fractured. While a multitude of outlets is producing the quantities of personal healthcare data – from doctors to clinics, labs to hospitals, and even our cell phones and smart devices – the information remains almost often fragmented inside data silos – separated and unavailable from beyond the boundaries of closed and proprietary networks. This is not just inefficient, but it still limits a healthcare provider’s capacity to work with the most comprehensive collection of medical data accessible in real-time to ensure optimum clinical results.
Blockchain platform provides a workaround, and healthcare organizations are rapidly recognizing its disruptive value.
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What is Blockchain?
In the most basic form, a blockchain is a time-stamped sequence of static archives of data that is maintained by a group of machines that are not operated by a single person. Cryptographic concepts are used to encrypt and connect each of these blocks of data (i.e. block) (i.e. chain).
So, what makes it so special, and why are we claiming that it has industry-disrupting potential?
The blockchain network has no centralised power, making it the epitome of a democratic structure. The material in it is available to everyone and everybody because it is a shared and eternal ledger. As a result, everything built on the blockchain is transparent by definition, and anyone involved is responsible for their behaviour.
Benefits and drawbacks of blockchains in healthcare
The below are some of the major concerns with blockchain implementations in healthcare:
At all levels of the network infrastructure, stability is paramount.
Both participants’ identities are verified and authenticated.
Although DLT can be used in a variety of healthcare settings, not all operation in healthcare is related to purchases. However, since the data in public blockchains are publicly available, they cannot be used to store private information such as defining health data. As a result of this openness, providers are required to consider privacy considerations to ensure that confidential patient information is maintained.
Second, although blockchain technology is vulnerable to some threats, it also provides built-in security against others. The blockchain’s programming makes it vulnerable to zero-day threats, glitches, and social engineering. As a result, information protection must be given particular consideration, particularly where it is used in healthcare.
Since blockchain data is transparent, it cannot be used indiscriminately throughout healthcare. Large archives, or those that alter often, may be excluded. Any personally identifiable information should be kept off the chain.
Decentralized management, unchangeable databases, data provenance, traceable data, robust data, and data access to any registered person, all while holding data out of the hands of unauthorised users through encryption based on a patient’s private key, are all advantages of blockchains over traditional healthcare information management systems.
Applications of blockchain in healthcare
Electronic health records now only allow for the automatic updating and exchange of medical knowledge about a single patient through a single entity or network of organizations. This could be expanded if the data was structured such that the topmost layer of the blockchain only contained information that was not PHI or publicly identifying information (PII).
This will provide researchers and other organizations access to a vast range of results, including patient cohorts numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Hospital testing, safety incident, and adverse event monitoring and diagnosis, and public health reporting will all benefit tremendously from the provision of such large volumes of data.
Patient transfers between services are seamless.
Individual patients may use a shareable private key to securely view and swap their health data with other providers or organisations using the same information on the blockchain. This could help with health information technology (HIT) interoperability and collaboration among different users.
Patient treatment is more efficient, less expensive, and more effective.
Blockchain platform has the potential to build a single mechanism for storing and retrieving health information in a safe and timely manner by registered users. Innumerable errors can be avoided, quicker diagnoses and treatments are available, and treatment can be tailored to – patients by preventing miscommunication with multiple healthcare providers interested in caring for the same patient.
Interoperable electronic health records
Through holding a specific collection of structured data on the ledger, together with private encrypted links to independently stored information such as radiographic or other photographs, the blockchain may offer a single transaction layer where organizations would send and exchange data in one safe framework.
The use of smart contracts and standardized authorizing protocols will greatly aid in the provision of seamless communication.
The blockchain’s secure functionality will significantly improve the security of health data. Each person has a public identifier or key and a private key that can only be unlocked when and for the length of time required.
Furthermore, the need to target each user personally to access private information will restrict hacking. As a result, blockchains will have an immutable audit trail of medical data.
Tracing and securing medical supplies
With complete accountability, blockchain will help protect and trace the trail of pharmaceutical supplies. It can also monitor the labor costs and carbon emissions associated with the production of these products.
Health insurance claims
Because of the capacity to present medical cases as they happened without the possibility of manipulating the evidence later for deception purposes, the blockchain is ideally suited to claim to process.
A blockchain with a solid base to help big data capability is critical to realizing this vision for public health. Rather than providing many distributed ledgers for the sector, better health care outcomes necessitate a centralized national blockchain that expands exponentially and is capable of easily managing large quantities of data to serve as a single repository of evidence, meaning that everyone in the healthcare service chain has access to the same data at the same time.
It’s a huge idea for healthcare, and it can only be realized with the help of a cryptocurrency that’s advancing an even bigger vision. Getting a blockchain degree sounds like a great idea.
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