The first great frontier for blockchain technology was the financial technology industry. There, it has had varying successes ranging from major advantages like the bitcoin loophole system to great issues like the volatility of cryptocurrency prices. However, there is a new frontier where this technology seems to be making waves: the health care industry. There, it has inspired a range of potential applications. Some are achievable easily in a few years while others sound like the stuff of science fiction.
There is a lot of excitement in the global community about the potential of the health care industry. From governments to health care organizations, all of them are looking forward to achieving some of the many possibilities promised by blockchain technology.
The industry, however, needs to direct its focus on joining forces in the form of consortia dedicated to blockchain technology to foster partnerships in the ecosystem and create helpful frameworks and quality standards that will be implemented across health care systems on a massive scale.
There is an open source community known as the Hyperledger foundation, which is dedicated to advancing the implementation of blockchain technologies across the industry. This is just one example of the many models of blockchain consortia that are developing in the world of health care.
Granted, there is a lot of euphoria around the idea that blockchain could be the definitive future for health care. However, we still have a long way to go related to understanding and better decrypting blockchain technology to figure out how realistically we can apply it in the health care industry. Once we have achieved this, we will be able to apply it across hundreds, if not thousands, of use cases. There are some use cases that sound a little more achievable in the short run and realistic than others and, of these, the ones listed below are the most exciting. They are being adopted at various degrees in different countries at the moment. However, they are realistic enough that we envision a future world where they are universally implemented and accepted.
Clinical Interoperability and Health Data Exchange
The very first thing that comes to the minds of most experts when the topic of discussion is blockchain technology and health is the idea of data exchange. When information technology systems in health care are enabled for the blockchain, they are capable of solving a slew of problems. These include the interoperability of data, the integrity and security of health data, and the portability of user-owned data, among many others.
At the very heart of it, blockchain technology could make it possible to create data systems that have been secured using cryptography and cannot be revoked or fraudulently changed. This would make it possible to access real-time and historical patient data and wouldn’t involve the burden that comes with trying to reconcile data from different systems.
There has been a recent collaboration between the Estonian eHealth Foundation and Guardtime, a security company focused on data. This collaboration has made it possible to secure the data of more than a million Estonians through the use of a form of blockchain technology created by Guardtime known as the keyless signature infrastructure (KSI).
There is still a lot of complexity, however, surrounding the ownership of data and the way data would be exchanged between private entities and public entities. While the Estonian situation certainly is a small victory for the application of blockchain technology to health care, it wouldn’t be easy right now to replicate it across the world.
Billing Management and Claims Adjudication
Between 5 percent and 10 percent of the costs incurred in the health care industry have fraudulent motivations behind them. There are cases where the billing was excessive and the services weren’t even performed. In the United States alone, Medicare fraud was the cause of a loss of about $30 million in 2016 alone.
A system based on the blockchain would be a realistic solution to this problem. The processes of claim adjudication and the processing of payments would be automated and the blockchain would make it unnecessary for there to be middlemen in the system.
There could also be massive improvement in the issue of logistics. Reliability-centered maintenance faces logistical information tracking issues all the time and could use the help of blockchain technology.
Gem Health, a company focused on providing blockchain platforms to their clients, has recently collaborated with Capital One to create a variety of health care management solutions based on the blockchain.
Supply Chain Provenance and Integrity for the Drugs Industry
As estimated by a variety of experts in the industry, the loss of about $200 billion every year in the pharmaceutical industry is caused by counterfeit drugs finding their way into supply chains around the world. Of the drugs sold in developing countries, about a third are considered counterfeits.
Blockchain technology could provide a solution to this problem. There could be a log tracking the chain of custody, looking at how the product changes ownership at each stage of the supply chain. There could also be extra functionality enabling smart contracts and private keys, which would make it possible to prove ownership of the source of the drug, wherever it is on the supply chain. It would also be much easier to manage contracts between parties along the way.
As an example of this, there is a company called iSolve LCC, which is currently working with many different pharma companies to try and implement its proprietary advanced digital ledger technology (ADLT) to manage the integrity of drug supply chains.
Health Research and Clinical Trials
About half of all clinical trials aren’t reported and the results aren’t reported. On ClinicalTrials.gov alone, 90 percent of the trials don’t have any results. That means patients have plenty of safety issues and stakeholders in the health care industry are facing knowledge gaps.
With blockchain technology, we can be able to track records of clinical trials and timestamp them. They would be immutable, and we would introduce protocols to reduce the likelihood of fraud occurring in the system. These blockchain systems also make it possible for researchers to collaborate on a massive scale. The amount of progress we would then make in the medical field would be unprecedented.
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