T3 Series: Blockchain Use Case in Healthcare

At a very basic level, blockchains are shared databases that store and
verify information in a cryptographically secure way. It is monitored
and organized by a peer-to-peer blockchain network, which also serves
as a secure ledger of transactions, e.g., buying, selling, and transferring.
One can think of a blockchain as a Google spreadsheet, except that
instead of being hosted on Google’s servers, blockchains are
maintained by a network of computers all over the world. These
computers (sometimes called miners or validators) are responsible for
storing their own copies of the database, adding and verifying new
entries, and securing the database against hackers.
A cryptocurrency is an encrypted data string that denotes a unit of
currency.

Crypto, as we know it today, has a significant environmental impact,
but it’s hard to measure exactly how significant. Many frequently cited
statistics come from industry groups, and it’s hard to find trustworthy,
independent data and analysis.

In these essays, Varsha Appaji, a 2021 SMU graduate, and a Research
Associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco -and a former
student Research Analyst in the Hunt Institute- looks at the impact of
blockchain technology and its impact on major issues facing society
for better and for worse.

. . .

The healthcare record-keeping infrastructure is battling an issue known as interoperability, which refers to the way health information systems communicate across organizations to provide holistic healthcare. Since people have varying needs, it’s important for specialized health care providers to access previous health records in order to build a comprehensive patient profile.

Blockchain’s ability to provide decentralized record-keeping as well as ensure privacy and control over identity data could revolutionize the ways that our communities stay healthy.

Blockchain’s unique characteristics could:

  • Open a path for a universal patient identifier,  so that health data can be matched to the proper individuals, even when data is transferred between healthcare systems
  • Allow for greater control over personal information by providing security over health data and autonomy over access to medical records
  • Make medical record keeping on the blockchain a much cheaper alternative than current healthcare data systems by providing security and cutting time costs in cross-organization communication
  • Cut  down on counterfeit pharmaceuticals and drugs  around the world by tracking clinical trial and drug data to make it verifiable. This would hold all editors of the blockchain, or all drug transaction points, accountable
  • Make doctor-patient in-office care more efficient by organizing layers of information verification and record-keeping in one digital place
  • Assure better patient delivery of pharmaceuticals and drugs
  • And provide many more potential use cases in healthcare.

The MediLedger Project is an organization using blockchain applications to verify the pharmaceutical supply chain in real-time.

Cons

The disruptive potentials of blockchain technology are still emerging, and there are still many potential risks. Notably, the security of the blockchain remains a large issue. For personal healthcare data, access to your own individual data is important as well. With the way that the digital key works now, losing this digital identifier would also cause you to lose access to the blockchain. Additionally, the investment cost in creating a blockchain-healthcare ecosystem would be huge since all organizations integrated in the system would need to install technology that could communicate with other blockchain users in the system.

Valuable additional reading: Global Blockchain in Healthcare 2018-2025 Report , or The Global “Blockchain in Healthcare” Report: The 2022 Ultimate Guide for Every Executive

For a video overview of blockchain, watch “Blockchain Applications for Social Impact” here.

Written by Varsha Appaji ’21

Edited by Chris Kelley

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