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A glance at adopting Blockchain-based solutions for the digital healthcare ecosystem

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03 Oct, 2023
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We all live in a digital age in which technology increasingly changes our lives. There is no doubt that the Healthcare industry follows this suit. Innovative digital Healthcare solutions are mainly driven by patient-centred care, secure and reliable data privacy and medical data access. Accordingly, advanced digital healthcare has bloomed and is expected to expedite further with the industry moving towards adopting blockchain technologies.

This writing is to explore the potential innovation of the digital healthcare ecosystem, by looking at potential applications of the ecosystem of blockchain-based solutions for key stakeholders — patients, (pharmaceutical) firms, hospital systems and (insurance) providers. Inherently, challenges for blockchain practitioners would be identified to architect a transformative future for the healthcare industry.

What is blockchain?

Introduced in 2008, bitcoin is an example successful case of blockchain. A blockchain is defined as a distributed database or a digital decentralized ledger that stores encrypted blocks of data then put them as a chain to form a chronological single source of data (Bashir, 2017). As a database, a blockchain is used to record information, transactions electronically in digital format. Blockchains are best known for their crucial role in cryptocurrency systems, such as Bitcoin, for maintaining a secure and decentralized record of transactions. Blockchain preserves the integrity, fidelity and security of data; thus generating trust in the asset.

With the aids of blockchain technology, the Digital transformation of healthcare aims to build a decentralized ecosystem of healthcare providers; protect patient data security and privacy; improve healthcare services with the aids of technology and enhance life quality and save lives by creating intelligent healthcare providers. Blockchain is an especially promising and revolutionary technology as it helps reduce risk, stamps out fraud and brings transparency in a scalable way for myriad uses.

Adoption of blockchain technology in the digital healthcare ecosystem

Bell et al. (2018) affirmed that several areas of the healthcare and well-being ecosystem could be improved by adopting blockchain technologies. These include device tracking, clinical trials, pharmaceutical tracing, and health insurance. Within device tracking, hospitals can trace their asset within a blockchain infrastructure through the complete lifecycle of a device. The information gathered can then be used to improve patient safety and provide after-market analysis to improve efficiency savings.

To strengthen this point, Sharma et al. later in their research (2021) stated that patient-centred care can be achieved through better integration of such factors including patient information, and data privacy, among other things. Further, these solutions are expected not only to reduce costs but also to enhance customer experiences and outcomes.

Supporting the advantages of blockchain-based solutions, several use cases were introduced by Ben Fekih R. and Lahami M. (2020) while applying the potential utilization of blockchain, namely electronic medical records (EMR), electronic health records (EHR), supply chains and health insurance claims to be discussed below.

Ben Fekih R. and Lahami M. (2020)

Electronic medical records (EMR) and Electronic health records (EHR)

The Health data management system would be transformed via applying the blockchain revolution, including EMR and EHR (Liji Thomas, 2021). While the former is known as a digital version that contains the medical and treatment history of a patient; the latter collects the total health statuses of the patient beyond clinical data. Blockchain enables patients themselves to control their EMR/EHR and grant permission to other parties to access their sensitive information. Adopting blockchain-based solutions, such information is encrypted and can not be edited or deleted by anyone. Hence, the possibility of important data errors or loss could be eliminated. Examples of blockchain applications of the field of EMR/EHR are known as the following cases: healthcare providers can issue prescriptions for their patients based on provided data; researchers can receive valuable patient data hubs (EMR/EHR) from providers, or patients can directly make a contribution by giving access or permission for those researchers to get a reward in cryptocurrencies. Additionally, following the HL7 FHIR standards, patient data (EMR/EHR) can be shared among global healthcare providers for treatment or any other purpose.

Health insurance claims

Health insurance claims are beneficiary fields that can be inherited from immutable, transparent and auditable data stored by blockchain. Blockchain tracks and encrypts all the information in a decentralized manner that can not be edited. This adoption effectively protects patient privacy, eliminates the risk of data leakage as well as enhances fraud detection capability for healthcare insurance companies.

Image Credit: Billion Photos / Shutterstock.com

Pharmaceutical supply chains

Blockchain solution innovates the traditional supply chain methods via automotive supplier payments and product traceability. Blockchain enables direct payment transactions between sellers and buyers. Hence, secure and rapid payment could be enhanced. Further, costs could be reduced by incurring lower fees. Another notable point is that due to the permanent and immutable records in blockchain, each product can be traced the whole steps in the supply chain, from manufacture to product consumption. For the above reasons, enterprises are expected to harness blockchain power to transform their supply chain.

Challenges while utilizing blockchain platforms in healthcare application

Despite those useful applications, the applicant of blockchain technology should be aware of significant challenges in their practical healthcare services. The first difficulty to be recognized is data privacy and security. Permission for the third party or group of individuals to access patient records probably exposes threats to the security of sensitive information. Meanwhile, the high-secure platform extends restriction to access to the proper and complete data transmission which causes inconvenience for the utilizer. Therefore, a network authority could be effective to prevent any additional transaction without granting consent.

Managing storage capacity would be another consideration as a great deal of healthcare data must be handled every day. Such data, including patient records, medical and health history, etc., are required to be available for all nodes of the chain. Functionality to search or access records must be in accordance with the increase in the database size. Therefore, blockchain solutions are required to be scalable and robust to adapt to the application.

A bright future to align

Blockchain-based solutions create significant transformation for the healthcare ecosystem. Though there have been predictable difficulties during the implementation of the blockchain platforms, potential cases of blockchain utilization particularly enhance the medical services. Early adopters are suggested to acknowledge the challenges; seize the opportunities to accelerate the sustainable development and revolution of the healthcare industry and positively impact all healthcare participants.

References

Bashir, I. (2017). Mastering blockchain. Packt Publishing Ltd.

Bell, L., Buchanan, W., Cameron, J. and Lo, O. (2018). Applications of Blockchain Within Healthcare. Blockchain in Healthcare Today.

Ben Fekih R., Lahami M. (2020) Application of Blockchain Technology in Healthcare: A Comprehensive Study.

Ribeiro da Silva, E., & Angelis, J. (2019). Blockchain adoption: a value driver perspective. Business Horizons, 62(3), 307–314. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2018.12.001

Saldamli, G., Reddy, V., Bojja, K. S., Gururaja, M. K., Doddaveerappa, Y., & Tawalbeh, L. (2020, April). Health Care Insurance Fraud Detection Using Blockchain. In 2020 Seventh International Conference on Software Defined Systems (SDS)(pp. 145–152). IEEE.

Sharma, L., Olson, J., Guha, A. and McDougal, L. (2021). How blockchain will transform the healthcare ecosystem. Business Horizons, 64(5), pp.673–682.

Srivastava, S., Singh, S. V., Singh, R. B., & Shukla, H. K. (2021). Digital Transformation of Healthcare: A Blockchain study.

Thenmozhi, M., Dhanalakshmi, R., Geetha, S. and Valli, R. (2021). Implementing blockchain technologies for health insurance claim processing in hospitals. Materials Today: Proceedings.

www2.deloitte.com. (2020). Blockchain: Opportunities for health care. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/public-sector/articles/blockchain-opportunities-for-health-care.html

Dr. Liji Thomas, MD (2021). Blockchain Applications in Healthcare. [online] News-Medical.net. Available at: https://www.news-medical.net/health/Blockchain-Applications-in-Healthcare.aspx

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  • #blockchain
  • #IVIRSE
  • #healthcare
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