Few industries if any have embraced the Industry 4.0 era with as much zeal as healthcare. Recent years have seen modern hospitals take giant strides toward future-proofing their operations.
But in many cases, clinics are realizing that it is vital to go beyond simply modernizing equipment and investing in R&D. True industry 4.0 readiness requires the implementation of revolutionary new procedure models – and some are wondering if blockchain technology can provide precisely that.
Digital healthcare may sound like a fancy buzzword, but governments and health authorities around the world are very serious about implementing it. They see effective healthcare digitization as a long-term cost-saving, efficiency boosting strategy.
And these same bodies are now starting to realize the importance of getting health records onto shared networks. They think that if these new networks can comprise immutable, decentralized ledger-like systems, coordinating healthcare could well become a lot safer, more straightforward and more cost-effective in the years to come.
Need for improved security
One of the main pluses of a blockchain-based health records network is the potential for improved cybersecurity.
Health-related data leak threats are more real now than ever. The health IT experts at Protenus claim that the amount of healthcare data leaks doubled in the United States last year.
And the authors of IBM’s recent Cost of Data Breach Study say that healthcare has just topped the list of the most expensive industries for data breaches for the seventh consecutive year. What is more, health industry data breaches cost organizations US$380 per record, which is almost three times the global industry average (US$141 per record).
The tamper-proof nature of blockchain-based systems could, according to some experts, reduce the risk of data breaches and ransomware attacks, as well as eliminating potential IoT-related vulnerabilities in the healthcare business.
Plugging holes and building trust
Health authorities appear to have decided to act fast – and see blockchain as a solution that could potentially plug some major security holes.
In China’s Jiangsu province, regional authorities have teamed up with Alibaba’s health arm, Ali Health, for a pilot blockchain platform. The new system will function as a database for Jiangsu-area patients’ medical history and health checkup information. Ali Health says the platform will cut out the need for doctors to make repeated time-wasting, costly and “unnecessary” basic examinations. Instead of starting from square one with new patients, doctors will be able to consult the system and to get all the medical history answers they require.
A Jiangsu health official told reporters, “[The system] is cost-effective and safe. With blockchain, health centers and district hospitals are interconnected.”
Some health bodies are hoping that blockchain will help solve another problem – the danger of medical pros and bad-apple government officials “doctoring” patient records.
Estonia’s e-Health Authority in March this year struck a deal with local blockchain specialists to create a platform to host the medical records of a million Estonian citizens. The platform’s founders say the new system “makes it impossible for the government, doctors or anyone else to cover up any changes made to healthcare records.”
Safer drugs, integrating AI
Cybersecurity and trust issues are not the only reason why many health professionals are turning to blockchain technology. Some see it as a means of fighting back against the ever-worsening plague of counterfeit drugs. A French initiative called BlockPharma claims that its objective is to promote traceability in the pharmaceutical industry and help “fight counterfeiting in medicine” using blockchain technology.
Others believe that blockchain will provide a means of integrating future-tech advances like AI into the world of healthcare. An ambitious intercontinental project headed by researchers at Stanford and Cambridge universities could soon result in the launch of AI-powered “robo-doctors.”
Developers claim the system will use lab test results to “converse directly with patients” via “advanced artificial intelligence, medical data forensics and the decentralized blockchain.”
Somewhat surprisingly for some, it is looking as though dentistry could be set for the biggest blockchain shake-up of all.
Should pioneering projects like DentaCoin take off, modern dentistry as we know it could change forever. This high-profile blockchain-powered initiative is not only set to provide a new cryptocurrency for dentists, patients and manufactures, but also a decentralized dental materials trading platform, blockchain-powered dental insurance and an immutable dental records database. What is more, the platform’s developers claim that patients will be able to earn free DentaCoin credits in exchange for posting dentist and clinic reviews to the platform.
Another dentistry blockchain venture, DentalFix, has already established regional bases on four continents, and aims to provide greater supply chain transparency for deals between clinics and manufacturers. Built on a subscription and revenue-sharing model, DentalFix promises “corruption-free” dealings and price stability for clinics – as well as more order predictable orders for manufacturers.
Searching for suggestions
In many cases, medical bodies seem ready to admit that although they like the idea of using blockchain technology in healthcare, they are not quite sure how to proceed.
Indeed, last year, the United States government even took the bold step of holding an online ideation contest for blockchain-related healthcare applications, handing out cash prizes of up to US$5,000 for white papers – and eventually selecting eight winners to participate in a health ministry- National Institute of Standards and Technology workshop.
Participants at the follow-up workshop concluded: “We see the advantages of using blockchain technology in the medical sector” – although they conceded “there is still debate over which type of blockchain technology should be used.”
The best cure?
Many medical professionals will admit they are still in the dark about what blockchain technology is, and how it could help them do their jobs more effectively in the future. That said, a very significant number of healthcare specialists have now heard enough to make them very blockchain-curious.
Perhaps more crucially, however, those now showing the greatest interest in blockchain technology are those at the top of the tree – the decision-takers and policy-makers whose job it is to shape the future of the medical industry.
Featured image by pexels.com