Fall 2019

Revolutionizing healthcare: one block at a time

by Liane Albarghouthi

Disruption is in the DNA of technological revolutions. 

Today, the dominating disruptive force in question is blockchain technology. Blockchain is a decentralized, ever-growing, time-stamped list of immutable data. Conceived by a group under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, blockchain originally served as the transaction database for one of the most notorious cryptocurrencies currently known: Bitcoin. At its core, blockchain provides cryptographically-stored data and guaranteed authentication; its allure is founded upon its ability to publicly transfer any form of data without the interference of intermediaries and at no cost whatsoever. Since its conception, this autonomized database has made headway in the financial district. But perhaps the most integral aspect of blockchain is its applicability — particularly to the healthcare industry. Advancing modern healthcare comes hand-in-hand with the personalization of medicine — a feat that can be accomplished through the nexus of blockchain technology.

Assessing patient care depends on the means by which medical information is provided to medical personnel; it is the framework that decides how effectively patients are treated. In the United States, the electronic health record (EHR), which provides doctors with access to patient history and test results, serves as this framework. It is worth noting, however, that the functional limitations of EHRs lie in their lack of interoperability. In other words, hospitals and medical institutions only have access to a patient’s information from that given institution. No outside data can be accessed, thus limiting the efficacy of patient care.

Here, blockchain technology has the potential to disrupt this informational gap by offering authenticated and real-time data exchange between multiple users — with the patient being the owner of their own information. Patients and authorized medical personnel can each access and append to their copy of the patients’ record that is linked to the original ledger in the blockchain. In an easily-verifiable system, patient care becomes more efficient, personalized, and reliable than the currently-dominating EHRs. 

As a result, blockchain technology has the potential to pose as a vehicle for the enhancement of precision medicine — a model that promises personalized medical treatment to individual patients — with its facilitated data exchange and decentralization features accelerating that progress. In a system where patients, healthcare providers, and researchers can collaborate freely, medicine could become more tailored to individuals. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Other realms of the medical industry including genomics research, drug traceability and detection, clinical trials, and patient invoicing can be dramatically transfigured — with interoperability as the figurehead of that revolution.

There are undoubtedly many advantages promised by the fusion of blockchain and healthcare. But first, we must understand the scalability obstructions that complicate its inauguration. For one, this digital infrastructure is relatively new, with much of it still in the process of experimentation. Given that EHRs are filled with complexities of their own, it is no surprise that attempting to integrate into it blockchain technology would be met with many obstacles — namely high development costs and the challenge of reorienting millions of healthcare professionals to adapt to the system. Nevertheless, it is necessary to analyze the operational and security limitations of the current healthcare infrastructure in order to pinpoint where efficiency and precision simply do not make ends meet. Adopting a new system — albeit gradually — may be one of the stepping stones in evolving healthcare and data efficiency. 

 

Sources:

Rabah, K. (2017). Challenges & Opportunities for Blockchain Powered Healthcare Systems: A Review. Mara Research Journal of Medicine and Health Sciences, Vol. 1 No. 1 Pages 45–52. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ab2c/36d77953212f87b4671f53d0ec94bb80f0c3.pdf

Robert Pearl, M. D. (2018, April 10). Blockchain, Bitcoin And The Electronic Health Record. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertpearl/2018/04/10/blockchain-bitcoin-ehr/#260a35b879e7.

Rosic, A., & Blockgeeks. (2019, November 8). What is Blockchain Technology? A Step-by-Step Guide For Beginners. Retrieved from https://blockgeeks.com/guides/what-is-blockchain-technology/.