Blockchains are the building blocks of better healthcare

blockchain, digitization, digital health ledger, ledger

blockchain, digitization, digital health ledger, ledger

All through 2020 and already in 2021, we were inundated with healthcare headlines – endless analysis of the pandemic and the response, gaudy statistics punctuated with insight into what could’ve been done better – yet for all of this, little airtime has been afforded to the information infrastructure that underpins the health services so many of us have relied on. And the reality is that for all of the progress and innovation that has been on display throughout the healthcare sector, the data systems and information technology that support it have largely failed to keep pace.

Contemporary healthcare information systems are exceptionally fragmented. While growing volumes of personal healthcare data are being created by a plethora of sources – from physicians to pharmacies, laboratories to hospitals, even our mobile phones and smart devices – the information remain, in almost every case, isolated within data silos – segregated and inaccessible from outside the confines of closed and proprietary systems. Not only is this inefficient, but it restricts the ability of a healthcare provider to operate with the most complete set of patient information available in real-time in order to deliver optimal health outcomes.

Blockchain technology – and more specifically – a single global blockchain, offers a solution – and healthcare organizations are increasingly taking notice of its transformative potential.

A single global blockchain can serve as the basis for a universal global electronic health record, offering a secure digital environment, capable of storing and managing patient information in a verifiable manner, publicly accessible in real-time by anyone in the healthcare service provider chain (if authorized by the patient). Each new item of information could be integrated to provide an up-to-date, comprehensive picture of patient health, enabling physicians, pharmacies and other providers to provide better health care guidance to patients. And by using the blockchain, we can iterate and innovate beyond the limitations of existing systems by leveraging its unique features. The same protections applied to prevent the double-spending of digital currency could be used to prevent double-filling of pharmaceutical prescriptions, while blockchain private keys could be implemented as a way to authenticate identity and validate insurance coverage.

Whether patient data is stored directly on the blockchain (with privacy protections) or off-chain (and managed through on-chain access rights), a blockchain-based system of electronic health records would not only enable healthcare providers to take a holistic view of patient information and produce better health outcomes; it would rebalance the information paradigm and put the ‘personal’ back in ‘personal health’.

In a year in which medical jargon and population health figures have become a regular part of our every day (socially distanced) discourse, it’s perhaps unsurprising that for many of us, the year has also brought with it a heightened desire to impart more control over our personal healthcare.

A blockchain-based records system would empower patients to retain full control over their data, choosing when, and to whom, to grant permission to access their information. That could be giving permission to a healthcare provider in a physician-patient setting or could extend to commercial uses – authorizing access to your data by a pharmaceutical manufacturer conducting clinical research in exchange for you receiving micropayments of digital currency.

Putting the patient in control would also make switching between healthcare providers a far simpler process than presently, while ensuring that any information provided is complete and verifiably accurate – a process that could be applied to a variety of scenarios.

One company leading this vision is Texas-based EHRData, an initiative launched by the founders of PDX, Inc. – a U.S. medical data company with 40 years of expertise working with pharmacy software and technology solutions.  Using the Bitcoin SV blockchain, EHR Data is developing the world’s first global electronic health record, which will enable individuals to securely own, control and earn money from their personal medical information, while also furnishing health care providers and researchers with better real-time access to data.  The platform can support a variety of use cases to produce better health outcomes, ranging from opioid drug to Covid-19 tracking, all while ushering in a new era of personal power for patients.

As governments and healthcare professionals the world around embark on the largest public health campaign in human history with the Covid-19 vaccination rollout, consider the impact a blockchain-based records system could have on administering the programme. A universal electronic health record would ensure that regardless of where each vaccine course was administered, that the correct type and dosage was given at the right intervals. This individual, immutable record of vaccination could subsequently be used for digital ‘passports’ that verify admissibility to public places or transport.

The potential for blockchain technology to impact the healthcare sector extends beyond a purely patient-provider paradigm too. Blockchain solutions can ensure honesty and facilitate transparency in the development of pharmaceutical products, an oft-elongated process subject to strenuous checks for data integrity or ‘hygiene’. If data is not properly recorded, or worse, is deliberately fabricated or obfuscated – entire studies, along with potentially billions of dollars and years of time, can be invalidated entirely. Blockchain technology enables easy, auditable tracking of datasets generated by clinical researchers, benefitting government agencies tasked with approving pharmaceuticals and producing better health outcomes for patients.

Advancing these goals is Veridat, a new U.S. business also using the Bitcoin SV blockchain as the basis for a system designed to bring integrity and data hygiene to the pharmaceuticals industry. Pharmaceutical clinical research is an area which has been subjected to long-standing questions of trust and transparency, with the results of trials and testing generating massive amounts of data which can have a substantial impact on the prospects of the companies developing them and the patients who will be given the resulting medicines. With so much at stake, ensuring the integrity, validity and trustworthiness of that data is essential to ensuring the best health outcomes can be delivered in the most efficient manner. By using the blockchain to timestamp clinical research data, Veridat can impart auditability and trust into the sector.  Veridat’s platform is already being trialled with JuvaTech – a behavioural neuroscience company supporting researchers conducting testing of therapeutic compounds – and also with a major pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Fundamental to achieving this vision for better health is a blockchain with a strong foundation to support big data capacity. Rather than having multiple digital ledgers for the industry, better health care results require a single global blockchain that massively scales, capable of efficiently handling high volumes of data to act as the single source for information – ensuring that everyone across the healthcare service chain can have access to the same data at the same time.

It’s a big vision for healthcare and one that will only be achieved with a blockchain advancing an equally big vision.

Photo: a-image, Getty Images

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