Securely managing tons of data remains the biggest challenge for the healthcare industry. Сybersecurity incidents with healthcare providers keep being reported all around the globe. Just one data breach at PIH Health — the operator of multiple medical facilities across southern California — may have impacted nearly 200,000 patients in 2019.
One of the most promising technologies to secure healthcare data is the blockchain. By decentralizing patient health information, tracking pharmaceuticals, and securing payments, blockchains are becoming a valuable tool for healthcare, revolutionizing the industry worldwide.
In this article, we discuss blockchain adoption in the healthcare industry, explore the major challenges of using the blockchain in healthcare, and list the top ten blockchain-based healthcare products.
This article will be useful for companies that develop or are considering developing blockchain-based solutions for the healthcare industry as well as for healthcare organizations that are thinking about leveraging the blockchain to meet their needs.
One of the main challenges in the healthcare industry at present is accurately managing and securely storing tons of private patient data. This data currently exists in silos. Patients’ medical information is stored in various databases across different hospitals, private clinics, and insurance companies. This raises questions about data security and creates barriers to exchanging information.
As a decentralized technology by nature, the blockchain promises to ensure the incorruptibility and transparency of protected health information (PHI). A blockchain allows patients, doctors, and healthcare providers to share information quickly and securely.
However, managing PHI isn’t the only way blockchains can be applied for medical purposes. Let’s explore the most promising applications of blockchains in the healthcare industry.
Electronic health records (EHR). Using blockchains for EHR systems can help healthcare organizations solve issues of data security, integrity, and management. Thanks to their decentralization and cryptographic functions, blockchain-driven applications allow patients and medical institutions to securely control health data, manage access to it, and ensure its privacy.
Secure data sharing. The efficient flow of medical data is essential for both patients and healthcare providers. Patients can share their PHI collected by smart fitness devices or medical records from other institutions with doctors to ensure quick and convenient communication. Moreover, medical data is precious to researchers, who can use it for reports, statistics, studies, and to improve current treatment practices and medicines. When implementing blockchains for such purposes, we can secure the flow of data and come up with reliable and tamper-proof solutions.
Medicine authentication. The blockchain’s ability to establish an immutable transaction history can be used in the pharmaceutical industry. Blockchain-powered pharma solutions can verify the origins of medical drugs and identify fake medicines.
Supply chain management. Medical drug traceability, mentioned above, can also enhance supply chain management. Interoperability between blockchain networks can allow pharmaceutical companies to track their products’ movements from the source to the end consumer. Some projects already combine blockchains with the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) for planning manufacturing processes and forecasting demand for certain drugs.
Clinical and pharmaceutical trials. Such trials involve multiple parties: study subjects, study sponsors, drug manufacturers, medical device providers, doctors, researchers, etc. A successful medical trial requires privacy and fast and secure data exchange. When implemented in clinical trial systems, blockchains reduce the risk of data fraud thanks to their consensus mechanisms and decentralized structure. For instance, trial documentation can be secured with a Proof of Existence mechanism.
Patient consent management. Current processes for acquiring patient consent and managing that consent are complicated. Healthcare organizations need to gather permissions for data sharing and informed consent from patients, protect data and patient privacy, and comply with various regulations.
Blockchain-driven solutions for advanced consent management allow patients to control access to their data and share their consent without allowing them to change or delete specific medical information. Such solutions update information in real time and eliminate issues with data inconsistency, ambiguity, and fragmentation.
Physician credentialing. Every hospital and clinic enables a credentialing process to make sure all physicians are competent to work with patients. The process of providing and verifying all necessary documentation — medical school diplomas, medical licenses, letters from previous hospitals — can take weeks.
However, blockchains are well-suited to credentialing and can significantly accelerate this process. A distributed ledger can securely store every piece of documentation supplied by a physician and every verification action performed by a hospital credentialing office. Plus, the transaction history in a blockchain is tamper-proof and immutable, eliminating the risk of fake documents.
Secure payments. Payment-related claims often arise due to human mistakes, overdue payments, and fraud committed with stolen patient identities. The blockchain’s security capabilities promise to improve transactions within the healthcare industry by minimizing denied claims, quickly reporting underpayments, reducing human errors, and better securing patients’ identities.
Healthcare setups. Healthcare providers tend to operate through one central database managed by one entity within the organization. Thus, there’s a single point of failure, which means hackers have more chances of compromising PHI than they do with decentralized systems.
The blockchain promises to prevent such attacks by providing different levels of access to different parties on a blockchain ledger. Information in a blockchain is decentralized and protected with advanced encryption methods like asymmetric cryptography and cryptographic hash algorithms.
Health insurance. When used in insurance applications, the blockchain can optimize patient data management and reduce regulatory and compliance costs. It can also improve interactions and secure payments among healthcare professionals, insurance companies, and patients. Moreover, the data transparency offered by blockchain technology can help solve the issue of multiple intermediaries throughout the lifecycle of a health insurance policy.
Now that we’ve listed the most promising ways of adopting the blockchain in healthcare, let’s take a look at the possible pitfalls when developing blockchain-based medical solutions.
Although blockchains can potentially solve various issues within the healthcare industry, implementing them isn’t easy.
The convergence of blockchain and healthcare systems causes several challenges with data (related to standards, accuracy, and privacy) and reveals general issues that still exist with blockchain implementations like lack of scalability, poor standardization, and slow transaction speeds.
Let’s take a look at the biggest challenges of adopting blockchains in the healthcare industry:
The blockchain trilemma. Also called the scalability trilemma, this term describes the issue of ensuring perfect scalability and security without sacrificing decentralization in the future. The blockchain trilemma states that you can’t maximize scalability, security, and decentralization at the same time. Blockchain enthusiasts are still working on solving this issue.
But what does it mean for healthcare? Most of all, it raises concerns about the security of possible crypto payments for medical services. When adopted globally, crypto payment services may fail to ensure proper security and decentralization when handling millions of transactions simultaneously.
Lack of standards. The blockchain still lacks universal standards, not to mention the lack of regulation within the healthcare industry. An absence of common standards can create a mess in healthcare. Patients can’t be sure their private data is secure just because a healthcare provider claims to use a blockchain. Legal regulations should also be applied to smart contracts that may be used in medical facilities to arrange payments and handle claims. Also, there are some concerns that PHI encrypted using mathematically derived methods can potentially be re-identifiable, which contradicts HIPAA requirements.
Lack of technical knowledge. Another issue that explains why medical facilities don’t choose to use blockchains is a lack of understanding. As blockchains are still in the early stages of adoption in the healthcare industry, most medical providers aren’t sure of the need to adopt this technology. The situation will change once existing blockchain-driven healthcare solutions show their benefits and encourage competitors to come on board.
Lack of data interoperability. To adopt blockchains globally and use them to the fullest, a huge number of organizations will need to be open to cooperating and exchanging data. These organizations include healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, governmental organizations, health insurance organizations, and various intermediaries who are obliged to protect their patients’ data and therefore hesitate to freely share patient information.
Peer network cooperation. It can take years to organize a large number of peers to handle silos of sensitive data and quickly and securely reach consensus between multiple parties. To create complex networks for healthcare, we should first agree on data standards for blockchain ecosystems and agree on a universal approach to blockchain networks.
Required resources. Healthcare enterprises are used to relying on trusted vendors that have supported their infrastructure layer, even if this infrastructure isn’t perfect. They’re more likely to keep things simple than to create a brand-new blockchain-powered operating system. To make healthcare providers change their minds, it’s essential to make sure blockchain technology in healthcare solutions conforms to existing infrastructure, security, and other standards as well as to providers’ expectations.
Blockchain development cost. Planning, building, and maintaining blockchain solutions for healthcare will take not only much time but much money. The market of blockchain development for healthcare is largely non-existent. There are not that many existing projects, and almost all of them are still under development and testing. However, developing a blockchain for healthcare definitely can’t be cheap because of the need to work with data privacy, information security, tons of medical records, and strict regulations like HIPAA.
Human errors. When powered with a blockchain, data management is likely to be more efficient, faster, and more fail-safe than when it’s handled by people. However, the way medical records have been treated before can bring new issues, and a blockchain can’t protect medical systems against human errors.
As we can see, blockchains promise to solve multiple problems within the healthcare industry but at the same time face some serious challenges. In the next section, we explore existing blockchain solutions in the healthcare sector and see how the blockchain can improve the industry and overcome the challenges we’ve mentioned.
According to Gartner’s 2019 Hype Cycle for Blockchain Business, blockchain adoption in healthcare is at the peak of inflated expectations. It will only reach the plateau of productivity in over 10 years. However, right now you can already find impressive and helpful blockchain-based applications that simplify work and life for medical institutions, doctors, patients, and pharmaceutical companies.
Let’s explore ten blockchain healthcare products in detail:
MediLedger is an open decentralized network designed for the following pharmaceutical needs:
- Complying with track and trace regulations
- Ensuring patient safety and drug supply security
- Simplifying payment processes
The MediLedger network is based on Ethereum and uses Proof of Authority consensus, multi-access smart contracts, and multiple smart contracts for business protocols. Also, the MediLedger team has developed a blockchain-driven Product Verification System protocol for registering members, managing endpoint verification, managing product identifiers, and fully verifying returns.
FarmaTrust provides blockchain and AI-based provenance systems for the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors. It aims to ensure advanced tracking, planning, and forecasting capabilities for pharmaceutical companies.
Blockchain-based solutions by FarmaTrust ensure that data is immutable and incorruptible. These solutions enhance the following healthcare services:
- Pharmaceutical tracking
- Personalized medicines
- Cell and gene therapy
- Clinical trials
- Medical device verification
FarmaTrust aggregates data from diverse and international legacy systems. Their solutions’ infrastructure is powered by IoT, machine learning, AI, and blockchain technologies to provide valuable data insights to its users, enabling privacy and security of patient data and improving data analysis.
3. Guardtime HSX
The Guardtime HSX platform leverages blockchain technology for transporting data among patients, providers, regulators, and pharmaceutical organizations. It provides APIs for building distributed and secure healthcare applications. The Guardtime HSX platform is driven by the KSI blockchain, which is designed in Estonia and deployed in Estonian government networks.
The four main goals of Guardtime HSX are:
- Providing patient-controlled access to data and trial recruitment
- Managing supply chains to prevent the distribution of counterfeit drugs
- Offering value-based contracting to ensure the integrity and availability of real-time health data
- Assuring regulatory compliance of health data processing and compliance with GDPR and HIPAA requirements
The blockchain-based EHR system developed by MedRec provides a transparent, accessible, and secure view of patients’ medical histories to healthcare providers and patients. The MedRec solution addresses four major issues in healthcare:
- Fragmented and slow access to medical data
- System interoperability
- Lack of patient agency
- Poor quality and insufficient quantity of data for medical research
The first implementation of MedRec was developed using the Ethereum blockchain along with the Pyethereum and Serpent libraries. The idea is to use a set of smart contracts to detect and authenticate record locations instead of just storing records directly on the Ethereum blockchain. Thus, smart contracts act as an intelligent representation that links patients and providers to the addresses of medical records. MedRec 2.0 is being developed using Go Ethereum and Solidity and aims to improve transaction scalability and privacy.
Medicalchain is a decentralized platform designed as a smart medical ecosystem for quickly, securely, and transparently exchanging and using medical data. It can be applied to:
- Secure EHR systems that allow patients to grant time-limited access to their data
- Manage databases of patients who have agreed to cooperate with pharmaceutical and research companies
- Medical insurance companies to cut out intermediaries and allow patients to share their records directly with insurers
Medicalchain claims to have a dual blockchain structure. It’s powered by Hyperledger Fabric to control access to health records and by an Ethereum ERC-20 token to provide the platform’s applications and services and to run smart contracts.
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phrOS is a blockchain integration project for the healthcare industry that aims to solve such challenges as the inability to connect healthcare businesses, data security issues, and high administrative and IT costs. The phrOS project uses a blockchain to ensure robust encryption within the application and to secure PHI.
phrOS products include applications for:
- Smart identification of patients
- Encouraging healthy lifestyles
- Digital consent
- Automated insurance
phrOS also serves as a healthcare data market for exchanging research-driven information.
Dentacoin is a blockchain-powered project that has two main goals:
- Help people establish and maintain healthy dental care habits with an interactive mobile app called Dentacare
- Gather a community of progressive dentists who want to develop successful patient-driven practices
The Dentacoin platform is based on Ethereum, which allows for running decentralized code in conjunction with smart contracts to enable dentists to provide reliable services and securely handle payments. Dentacoin smart contracts facilitate, verify, negotiate, and conclude contracts between patients and dentists.
8. Nebula Genomics
Nebula Genomics is a personal genetic testing service that gives users access to powerful tools to explore their whole genome sequencing data with a focus on data privacy and security.
Nebula Genomics helps users to:
- Use a gene analysis tool to examine any human gene
- Trace paternal and maternal ancestry
- Manage personal data and access thereto
- Access a research library
- Learn about the latest scientific discoveries
- Keep their data protected in a secure computing environment
This project leverages blockchain technology to build a multiparty access control system that doesn’t rely on any single trusted party. Thus, Nebula Genomics aims to reduce the risk of security breaches and prevent unauthorized government access and infringements of data privacy by genetic testing providers.
9. Caltech ETDB
The Caltech Electron Tomography Database (ETDB) is a blockchain-based Web 3.0 database that contains thousands of electron tomography datasets. This project not only brings value to biologists and researchers but can be used by software developers to build, test, and improve image processing algorithms.
The Caltech ETDB datasets may be used for:
- Automatically segmenting cell boundaries
- Automatically segmenting complexes in cells
- Finding and tracking fiducial markers
The core technology behind this project is the FLO blockchain, which is enhanced with the InterPlanetary File System transport protocol to store and share content. Caltech ETDB uses a public digital ledger that allows anyone to contribute or audit data but not to alter it.
CuraBlox is a tool designed to simplify claim identification and payment administration within healthcare organizations. It aims to help providers manage the value-based reimbursement model and save time on administering value-based contracts.
With private distributed ledger technology, CuraBlox:
- Uses smart contracts to initiate and authorize real-time claims and send notifications to permissioned participants
- Oversees reimbursement via smart contracts
- Ensures a complete workflow for episodic payment administration
- Enables healthcare organizations to receive bundled payments from contracted insurers or employers
- Orchestrates episode workflows, including the movement of funds and data to/from post-acute providers
Currently, there are dozens of blockchain-based healthcare solutions under development, testing, and step-by-step implementation. Adopting top-notch technologies in the industry allows for better data security, brings more opportunities, and wins trust among patients. Don’t hesitate to start developing a custom blockchain solution that will meet your needs, solve your current issues, and boost your workflow.
Healthcare providers can’t ignore the benefits offered by cutting-edge technologies like the blockchain, IoT, and AI. Lots of blockchain-based medical solutions are already under development and are constantly being improved. Such tools can bring new opportunities to the healthcare organizations and help patients securely and conveniently manage their records.
To succeed in the future, medical institutions should consider implementing blockchain-based solutions right now. The best way to do this is to choose a blockchain development company that stresses security and builds custom blockchain solutions based on your requirements.
At Apriorit, we have a dedicated and experienced blockchain team that’s ready to share its expertise and turn your ideas into a robust healthcare solution. Contact us to start discussing your project right away.