What is the blockchain’s potential uses in the healthcare industry?
Given the sophistication of contemporary healthcare systems, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the prospective uses of Blockchain technology that, thus far, are greatest publicised at the financial services industry, are just now becoming evident for the life sciences and healthcare industries. Decentralized ledgers can increase transparency and security in these industries, offering patients control over their healthcare and this could also lead to lower prices.
The UK is open to the possibility of integrating blockchain into its systems. In January 2016, the Office for Science authorities released a study on the tech. The private sector is also embracing Blockchain.
Many pharmaceutical manufacturers and vendors (like Pfizer, Genentech and AmerisourceBergen) are partners at the MediLedger Project, started in September 2017, which intends to utilize Blockchain technologies to help establish compliance with medication distribution chain regulations like the US Drug Supply Chain Security Act.
In September 2018, Philips established the Philips Blockchain Lab and has partnered with Blockchain recordkeeping startup Tierion to analyze how Blockchain technology might be utilised in the health care sector.
How can life sciences and healthcare sectors benefit from blockchain applications?
Since the Office for Science report indicates, medical records may be registered in a decentralised Blockchain instead of a central database. There might be a lesser risk of unauthorised access since the Blockchain would comprise protocols regulating how individual records could be retrieved and by whom. By way of instance, a secretary at a GP surgery may only hold the secret to access restricted information regarding a patient, like their name, though a physician would have a whole key allowing access to all medical data.
Medical records may also give patients full access to their own individual information. Patients may specify what treatment they need to get in various conditions or ask that particular family members be allowed to create medical decisions in the case of an emergency. In the same way, it might allow patients to document and upgrade their organ transplant options while providing medical professionals instant access to their option, which might help to avert the reduction of organs as a result of transplant window being overlooked.
Different projects are underway that are aimed at replicating some of those possible use cases. In the United Kingdom, the tech firm Medicalchain declared in 2018 a partnership with all the Groves Medical Group, a health care services provider located in London, to build a Blockchain platform pilot, targeted at providing patients with improved access to their medical records.
Public and private health programs normally use their own systems for monitoring each individual’s medical information. This might lead to fragmented information received by healthcare providers. A patient may authorise access to their individual records included on a Blockchain to all healthcare providers, both private or public, thus providing all suppliers with a complete version of a patient’s health information.
This isn’t quite as far-fetched as some may believe. In Estonia, a data safety startup, Guardtime, has announced a partnership with all an Estonian eHealth Foundation that will find it deploy a Blockchain-based platform to procure more than one million individual healthcare records. In the same way, IBM Watson Health declared in 2017 it had signed up a research initiative with the US Food and Drug Administration aimed at establishing a secure, scalable and efficient exchange of health information utilizing Blockchain technology.
Proof-of-existence platforms have been designed to provide innovators with a tamper-proof means of storing encrypted data, allowing organizations to validate the date where they generated intellectual property, like patents. The time-stamped files can subsequently be utilized as irrefutable proof that an ingenious step happened at a specific time and before anybody else. Courts across the globe will, nevertheless, have to be convinced about the safety and veracity of those time-stamping systems until they set the required legal precedents.
If blockchain would be coupled with additional technological improvements including wearable technology and information analytics, it would enable pharmaceutical companies to securely gather more detailed medical information regarding patients in real-time. The health information uploaded into the blockchain could be assessed to identify patterns representing potential conditions a patient could suffer, or be in danger, from later on.
Some pharmaceutical companies are currently time-stamping the outcomes of clinical trials as a method of providing proof of if clinical trial outcomes were acquired for inclusion in clinical analysis reports to regulators. Recording clinical trial results in real-time in an immutable Blockchain may make it even more challenging for clinical trial outcomes to be then manipulated by researchers, as an instance, in which the attention of a clinical trial is shifted to match the outcomes.
Quite a few use cases of blockchain in the life sciences and health care industries relate to this feature, monitoring and management of health care data.
But, applying a few of the needs of data security laws to blockchain-based software can be hard due to the inherent characteristics of Blockchain (see what’s a Blockchain?). Consequently, data stored on a Blockchain cannot be deleted. This will be problematic where the Blockchain operates in EU jurisdictions where the General Data Protection Regulation (679/2016/EU), which came into effect across the EU in May 2018, gives individuals the rights to be forgotten, erase data and correct data (see Practice note, Data protection and life sciences: impact of EU General Data Protection Regulation).
Holding private personal information only for the required amount of time is another challenge because the blockchain functions act as an immutable record. Some businesses might attempt to cope with this problem by keeping the private data off ledger in which the information could be deleted as needed, instead of holding the information on the ledger.
Likewise, another attribute of blockchain is that data can be encrypted to make certain the data stored on the blockchain is protected. But, it’s very likely that the encryption employed to a blockchain now is going to be made obsolete as more complex encryption methods are developed.
Again, an off-ledger alternative which enables encryption to be upgraded may help ensure that data stored on a blockchain stays secure as time passes. But while keeping data off ledger can help with these technical problems, it might not be suitable for many programs and use cases.
From the beginning, organisations need to give careful attention to compliance with data protection laws. In the life sciences and healthcare industries, this may entail the selection of sensitive medical information. It was seen how labs will answer the challenge of reconciling some of their inherent characteristics of blockchain with present data security laws. While technological solutions might help to address some of the challenges, it is still possible that regulators need to deal with the special challenges introduced by Blockchain technology.