<title-serif>Trust, privacy, and blockchain's role in the<title-serif><title-sans> future of healthcare<title-sans>

Blockchain holds a lot of promise for the world of health and wellness, but can it live up to its potential?

Customer Experience
3 min read
7/27/2023
Beyond
Beyond
and

A person's hands typing on a laptop. There is a stethoscope next to them.

Amidst many other emerging technologies, blockchain stands out for its potential to redefine data security. Though most associated with FinTech, blockchain has transformative applications across a number of industries, with healthcare chief among them.

This is particularly true because data management in healthcare often relies on centralized systems susceptible to tampering and hacking, even when cloud-based. In 2022 alone, data breaches in healthcare affected more than 51 million people in the U.S., which equals roughly one in every six Americans. Blockchain, by contrast, operates via a decentralized system that doesn’t associate anyone’s actual identity, opening up new possibilities for more secure storage of sensitive medical data.

How it works in healthcare

In the case of patient-doctor relationships, think of the blockchain as a universal medical record: Every time a patient has a test, takes medicine, or visits a doctor, that information gets written in this shared, unchangeable record. It's secure because only authorized people (like medical professionals) can write or read it, but it can't be altered or lost. So, no matter where a patient goes, their health history is always available, accurate, and safe.

However, personal medical information isn’t the only kind of data moving around the healthcare industry: There are pharmaceutical contracts, legal documents, and agreements between providers that could benefit from blockchain, as well.

A part of blockchain’s appeal in healthcare is that it is designed to be verifiable, while staying pseudonymous. This naturally enhances some types of healthcare data — like transparent payment agreements between providers — but takes extra work to bring other types of data — like sensitive personal information — into compliance with regulations like HIPPA in the U.S.

Still, a number of companies are taking early steps by building atop blockchains to enhance the security of all kinds of healthcare data, like:

ProCredEx

US-based ProCredEx has a decentralized app (or “dApp”) that is meant to improve credential verification for medical professionals. They use the R3 Corda blockchain protocol, allowing medical institutions and healthcare organizations to better log the credentials of their staff.

The company says the app allows for greater transparency and accuracy for both patients and organizations and the ability to run real-time analysis and governance on credentials.

HealthBlocks

Developed by healthcare experts in the Netherlands, HealthBlocks was designed with everyday people in mind. The app is built with the belief that “health data should be owned and controlled by users, not centralized parties such as wearable manufacturers or healthcare providers.” They use the IoTeX blockchain because its technology allows people to own the data from their devices, and the group behind it is committed to confidentiality.

Currently in beta testing, the app uses a reward-based system to motivate users to make healthy lifestyle decisions and provides a secure platform for health data management.

The MediLedger Network

Established in 2019, The MediLedger Network focuses on the ways in which behind-the-scenes healthcare players — like group purchasing organizations (GPOs), medicine manufactures, and industry wholesalers — work together. Tech company Chronicled provides ongoing support and improvement of the network, which features members like Pfizer, Genentech, and Bayer. Right now, MediLedger offers solutions that help with contracts between various players, but they’ll soon be offering solutions that help with U.S. legal compliance, as well.

Blockers to moving ahead

Despite the promise of blockchain and its early adopters, the technology still faces some marked challenges.

For one, while blockchain is theoretically a universal technology, there is no central, global healthcare body, with wide variances in how systems operate across countries and regions. While healthcare is nationalized in countries like the U.K. and Canada, for example, the U.S. is predominantly privatized. And when it comes to an industry as highly regulated as healthcare, the variances in laws and regulations can make it difficult to build a solution that scales with compliance.

This, in turn, can limit adoption, which is necessary to drive any significant shift in blockchain’s role across the healthcare landscape. However, adoption is already proving popular in areas perceived as lower-risk — such as human resources and logistics — and, to a lesser extent, within some healthcare supply chain companies that have the resources to invest in the technology.

Too, the association of blockchain with cryptocurrencies brings its own challenges. While cryptocurrencies brought blockchain into the limelight, this platform is now often mired in controversy and misunderstanding.

None of these blockers invalidate blockchain’s potential as a viable solution for health data management. It only means that technologists must be careful with how they develop, present, and implement their solutions and how they collaborate with regulators, healthcare professionals, and patients themselves to address legitimate concerns.

Blockchain’s ability to power more secure healthcare solutions is only just beginning to be tapped. Though challenges remain, the risks of relying solely on current solutions may be riskier. Technology has long played a role in the evolution of the healthcare system and blockchain seems poised to help the industry innovate once again.

Customer Experience
3 min read
7/27/2023
Beyond
Beyond
and