Healthcare is one of the largest national expenditures in the United States. In the near future, healthcare costs will account for 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). This rise is driven by increasing hospital expenses, inefficient use of resources, and even costs associated with information technology issues like data breaches.
Many people are pushing for improved efficiency, which can be facilitated by technological innovation. One technology that could prove particularly helpful for this sector is blockchain. By using a decentralized record that is recorded across multiple systems, blockchain creates an immutable and reliable ledger without the use of any sort of middleman.
Blockchain has a range of exciting applications to the healthcare industry that could reduce costs and improve overall quality of care. Three of these applications include:
1. Improved patient record sharing.
Miscommunications between healthcare providers costs an incredible amount of money. A recent estimate showed that this issue may account for $11 billion in spending each year. Part of the communication issue is due to how medical records are maintained.
Most electronic health records do not communicate with each other, so providers are left requesting records, which is a time-consuming process. As a result, various tests may be repeated since there is no easy access to the prior results and care needs to be delivered in a timely manner. One way to address this issue is to use blockchain-based medical records to facilitate easier access to a single repository of information.
With blockchain, a decentralized record of medical care can be created that could then be accessed by doctors, pharmacists, therapists, and other professionals involved with a patient’s care. With this sort of record, all providers can quickly find and review the results related to a patient to create personalized plans, arrive at faster diagnoses, and avoid unnecessary testing.
Blockchain would create a single repository of information about a patient rather than creating disparate systems that do not communicate effectively with each other. Facilitating communication across systems that have been developed independently of each other is extremely difficult, time consuming, and expensive.
2. Transparent supply chain management.
Unfortunately, people do not have much information about the sourcing and production of medicines that they take. Individuals cannot guarantee that the drugs they receive have not been tampered with or are not fake. The medical supply chain has created a lot of anxiety because of this lack of transparency.
This can become especially troublesome when issues are discovered with a particular batch of drugs. If drugs are found to be contaminated, tracing their distribution can be very time consuming, which puts lives at risk. Blockchain can provide a comprehensive view of everywhere supplies have been in a way that is reliable and completely transparent.
Through blockchain, companies could start a ledger for a drug as its point of origin, the laboratory where it was created. The ledger is then updated with key data during each step of the shipping process. This data includes locations, names of people who handled the supplies, and how long it stayed at a particular place. The ledger continues up until the drug reaches the hands of the consumer.
One company in France has already started using blockchain to track drugs and found a 15-percent counterfeit rate. Furthermore, such a ledger could be valuable in addressing shortages of supplies and figuring out the best way to reroute alternatives to a particular location. Some companies have even proposed using blockchain to monitor lab costs and waste emissions to make the process cheaper and greener.
3. Efficient genomic data discovery.
Genomics is one of the most promising areas of research for improving healthcare. In 2001, processing the human genome cost a total of $1 billion. Today, companies can do a complete analysis for about $1,000. Moreover, organizations like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have made it easier than ever before to test DNA and identify genetic predispositions for certain conditions.
The ability to test DNA will only continue to become more accurate and less expensive, especially as treatment modalities that focus on individual biology get developed. The path forward will benefit significantly from incorporating blockchain technology. This is because both security and ease of sharing data between multiple stakeholders are expected to improve.
With blockchain, it is possible to store billions of data points related to genetics in a format that is easily accessible from anywhere in the world. Moreover, the data is secure and immutable. Today, scientists are actually offering people money for their encrypted genetic information to create larger databases.
Blockchain stores this data securely and also makes it possible to share that data with key stakeholders to facilitate research. A couple of companies have already emerged that use blockchain to facilitate the sharing of genetic data by individuals to researchers.
Another company uses blockchain to collect patient data with no identifiers. This data is then analyzed using an artificial intelligence-driven system before it is cleared from the database to safeguard patient information.