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Blockchain technology is receiving attention in data management, financial services, cyber security, IoT, food science, healthcare industry, and brain research. Using blockchain applications for safe and secure healthcare data management has attracted considerable interest.
Blockchain also transforms conventional healthcare processes by providing a more secure and trustworthy platform for exchanging sensitive patient information. In the future, blockchain may be a technology that aids in personalized, authentic, and safe healthcare by combining a patient’s real-time clinical data and presenting it in a modern, secure healthcare environment.
Hospitals, clinics, labs, pharmacies, and doctors use a Blockchain network to store and share patient information. Healthcare professionals can quickly and reliably detect potentially life-threatening mistakes using blockchain technology. So, it can improve the performance, security, and transparency of sharing medical data in the healthcare system. Medical facilities can benefit from this technology since it facilitates a deeper study of patient records.
In this article, we will look at eight compelling use scenarios where blockchain can be used to alter the healthcare sector. These application cases range from better managing medical data to boosting clinical trials and supply chain integrity. We can pave the road for a more efficient, secure, and patient-centered healthcare system by leveraging the promise of blockchain technology.
Blockchain Basics in Healthcare
Blockchain technology’s potential benefits in healthcare might be due to its decentralized, open to the public, and permissionless nature. The technology’s increasing adaptability facilitates its integration into new areas of healthcare, such as wearables and the development of medical research.
Demand for blockchain developments in the healthcare sector is growing, and a study by Deloitte shows that the traditional industry is actively looking for new ways to use the blockchain to meet its most essential needs.
The immutability provided by a blockchain is an essential feature for patient records. It can protect sensitive information like medical records and clinical trial findings and guarantee conformity with regulations. Blockchain smart contracts illustrate the technology’s potential to facilitate near-instantaneous patient monitoring and treatment. These platforms comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to protect patient privacy and give doctors and other medical staff access to patient information.
Blockchain technology has potential uses in the pharmaceutical supply chain and the fight against fake medications. While high costs are associated with conducting studies to determine a drug’s safety and efficacy, smart contracts can streamline the informed consent process and boost data quality. Allowing patients to manage their identity helps streamline the informed consent process and protects sensitive medical information.
Use Case 1: Securing Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
Connecting systems and improving EHRs can improve health data management, which can alter healthcare. We often use electronic health records (EHRs) and electronic medical records (EMRs) similarly. However, there is a difference between the two. EMRs came first, like computer versions of the paper charts in a doctor’s office.
An EMR has all of a patient’s medical and treatment information in one place. EHRs, on the other hand, look at a patient’s health as a whole. They go beyond the usual clinical data collected in the provider’s office and give a complete picture of a patient’s care. From the mapping study, blockchain technology helps handle EHRs. In this situation, Ekblaw et al. present MedRec, an EHR implementation that suggests a decentralized way to handle authorization, permissions, and data sharing between healthcare stakeholders.
MedRec uses the Ethereum platform to let people know who can access their health information and why. FHIRChain (Fast Health Interoperability Records + blockchain) is a second application that works with EHR. It is a blockchain-based application built with Ethereum to share clinical data and handle health records. FHIRChain helps patients find answers that meet the needs of the ONC.
Similarly, Xia et al. introduce Medshare, an Ethereum application for systems that have trouble working together to share data between cloud services because of the risks of showing private data. Medshare allows big data groups to share medical data in cloud repositories by providing data provenance, auditing, and control.
Additional examples of EMR apps built on the blockchain include MedBlock and BlockHIE. You can use the MedBlock method to look for a record. The suggested approach is to keep track of the addresses of the blocks that hold a patient’s information. A healthcare provider or department groups these blocks—the digital ledger entry links every item in a patient’s file. BlocHIE is a proposal by Jiang et al. that provides a blockchain-based healthcare platform. On-chain verification uses existing databases, whereas off-chain storage stores data in hospitals’ databases outside BlocHIE.
The blockchain system only keeps the hashed value of data from other sources. The authors propose FAIR-FIRST and TP&FAIR, two fairness-based transaction packing algorithms, to increase fairness and throughput. There is also a blockchain-based healthcare system called Ancile that uses Ethereum smart contracts to protect data, control access, and make EMRs work with each other. Roehrs et al. show omniPHR, a distributed approach that keeps a single view of Personal Health Records (PHR) that different people can use.
In addition, omniPHR evaluation has the potential to guarantee that PHR is partitioned into data blocks and distributed in a routing overlay network.
Use Case 2: Pharmaceutical sector
Pharmaceutical supplies are a vital part of professional care and healthcare delivery.
Drug discovery and pharmaceutical research
Research and development of new drugs are costly for any pharmaceutical company. Various pharmaceutical businesses must find a way to work competitively due to the rising healthcare expenses and the necessity to innovate faster on new medicinal treatment options.
Blockchain is a floor that can enable the safe and reliable exchange of data and knowledge between various entities. One good idea for working together is to use blockchain for digital solid proof of Intellectual Property (IP) through immutable records and time stamps.
Solutions based on the blockchain can also facilitate the competitive sharing of clinical and trial data. Even if we do research and drug development without collaboration, blockchain can help track and handle different parts of clinical trials, such as data management, consent management, monitoring side effects of drugs, etc.
Also, it’s not uncommon for a pharmaceutical research business to give its clinical research projects to other companies. In this case, blockchain could be an excellent way to ensure the data and results are correct. Under the current system, drug companies might have a reason for misleading consumers about results, like when they talk about the side effects of new drugs. An open research ecosystem built on blockchain technology makes the research results easy to see and verify. This makes it hard to misrepresent the results.
The generic industry presents several blockchain-based IP management systems that we can use for drug development advances. In this context, one example is Labii’s aim to employ blockchain-backed electronic lab notebook solutions. Bernstein offers a way to keep track of digital trails using a blockchain and a timestamp to protect IP values. This can be helpful in collaborative pharmaceutical research.
A solution from iPlexus uses blockchain to make all data from drug development studies, both unpublished and public, easy to find and use. Blockchain technology solves the problem of preserving trust and protecting intellectual property necessary for implementing such a ground-breaking effort and framework.
We can also use blockchain to handle the process of clinical trials for drug research. IEEE Standard Association recently hosted a forum on Blockchain for Clinical Trials to accelerate drug research, improve patient recruitment, and ensure data integrity. A blockchain project called Scrybe, presented at the conference, makes it possible to speed up clinical trials and research reliably.
In addition, it provides auditors with a straightforward and streamlined structure to verify the trial process’s fairness from a legal and ethical perspective. Innovations in how clinical trials are set up, and run are essential for progressing pharmaceutical research. A lot of clinical studies cost and take longer than planned. Competitively sharing clinical and trial data can speed up research and finding.
Also, the analysis of pharmaceuticals covers a wide range of topics, from how we find drugs to how we make devices and the results of clinical trials. BlockRX, which uses something called “advanced digital ledger technology” (ADLT), has an answer for this whole range. The main goal is to connect the groups currently working in separate silos.
Use Case 3: Managing Health Care Data
A critical part of the healthcare business is managing healthcare data, which includes storing it, controlling who has access to it, and sharing it. Collecting healthcare data well allows for a more complete picture of the patient, personalized care, and better communication. It is also essential for the healthcare business to run efficiently and cost-effectively.
But managing healthcare data is problematic because it is private and can lead to problems with trust. Furthermore, healthcare data and services exist in different forms across many silos, one of the key reasons the healthcare system is disconnected. This disconnected system is to blame for many problems in health care and makes it hard to study health care.
Most healthcare workers need access to all of their patient’s information, making diagnosing and treating them harder. Researchers also need help finding the information they need for their studies, slowing healthcare research.
Blockchain could make it easier to share healthcare data in a way that protects data security and patient privacy. The appropriate application of it, together with other technologies, enables the development of safe, effective, cheap, and interoperable HIE. Also, using blockchain can speed the move toward a patient-centered healthcare model in which patients have power over their health data.
Both patient-centered and standard models have trouble sharing data because people don’t trust each other or have no reason to share. Blockchain technology can solve both problems, which can work as a trust layer and add incentive mechanisms, such as giving crypto tokens to people who share data. Also, blockchain can link medical device data and the Internet of Things in healthcare.
The health and lifestyle data collected by wearable devices can be essential for a correct diagnosis. Still, they ought to be used less than they are because there isn’t a good way for a doctor to access the data generated by the patient. With confidence and incentive structures made possible by blockchain, there is hope for a global HIE and a market. But the lack of shared standards for healthcare data can be one of the biggest problems to solve before an interoperable HIE can connect different data silos.
However, the incentives presented by blockchain-based data exchange can potentially promote the formation and evolution of open data standards. We must consider privacy, transparency, and efficiency while developing blockchain-based HIE, a fascinating use case. Also, country-specific rules will be another problem for an HIE that connects more than one regulatory area. In many countries, the patient owns all their health data, so a blockchain-enabled, patient-centered healthcare data model can be an excellent way to get around these legal problems.
Blockchain-based projects for healthcare data management
Several initiatives are working to create a blockchain-based HIE and build a marketplace for related data and services. Some focus on available electronic health records (EHR) data, while others focus on specific data types, like genes and dermatology. For example, Medrec is a public, blockchain-based EHR system. In conjunction with Beth Israel Deaconess Center, it was recently evaluated.
Patientory is one of the first healthcare companies to use Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) to raise money. It’s making an HIE that will run on its blockchain. Philips Healthcare’s HealthSuite Insights is testing the Verifiable Data Exchange Process. This product lets members of a network of hospitals and universities share data in a way that is both secure and easy to track.
All data exchanges inside the network are stored in a blockchain, along with the identities of the people who did the exchanges, so there is a record of the data exchanges. Mindshare allows untrusted parties to share electronic medical information based on the blockchain. This is done by adding data provenance, auditing, and trailing medical data. They claim that their system can successfully track data behavior using smart contracts and an access control system and then remove access to data for which rules or permissions have been broken. Iryo is assembling a world health data database in the OpenEHR format.
Different projects are focused on different kinds of data, like genomics and imaging. Genomics, in particular, has gotten much attention from entrepreneurs and businesses. This is likely because personal genome sequencing has become popular recently, genomics data is essential, and there are many ways to make money from it.
Personal genomics businesses like AncestryDNA sell access to their genetic data to labs and biotech companies to make money. Several new companies, like Encrypgen, Nebula genomes, LunaDNA, etc., are working on blockchain-based platforms or networks for exchanging genome data. With blockchain-based systems, they say they can lower the cost of genome sequencing, give patients control of their data, and give patients a share of the money made from selling their data.
Use Case 4: Blockchains in Clinical Research
Several potential problems can develop in clinical trials, such as patient confidentiality, data security, data sharing, record keeping, patient recruitment, etc.
Blockchain, the next version of the internet, can help solve these problems. With the help of blockchain technology, experts in the healthcare field are trying to solve these problems. The combination of blockchain technology, AI, and machine learning will soon cause a significant disruption in the healthcare sector.
In the study suggested by Timothy et al., clinic-based data management systems and permissioned Ethereum are used together. Permissioned Ethereum is a protocol for smart contracts in blockchain. The primary aim of the research was to find a solution to the issue of patient recruitment. The study’s results showed that Ethereum transactions were faster than Bitcoin transactions. This led to the conclusion that we should use Ethereum smart contracts to make data management systems in clinical trials more transparent.
Thus, one of the current applications of this technology in clinical research is patient enrolment via blockchain. Mehdi Benchoufi did more research in which he developed a system to collect patients’ informed consent and store it in an immutable, verifiable, and secure format. He creates this process using blockchain technology.
Use Case 5: Supply chain and counterfeit drug detection
One cannot overestimate the significance of the supply chain in the medical field. Every step must be tracked and monitored for optimal and intended utilization, from raw materials and production to storage and distribution.
In recent years, fake medications have become a significant issue. End consumers and other stakeholders in the supply chain must be able to verify a drug’s ingredients. Because there isn’t an excellent way to track drugs, there are many weak points in the supply chain where someone can change or mix drugs with fake drugs. This has led to new laws requiring every participant in the pharmaceutical supply chain to put in place an efficient system for tracking and tracing pharmaceutical supplies in response to the growing public concern. With its ability to store data in a public, secure, and tamper-proof ledger that different users can access, blockchain is an excellent fit for this tracing and tracking application.
That’s why there have been so many suggestions for monitoring drug distribution using blockchain technology. The MediLedger project is developing a decentralized infrastructure for the pharmaceutical distribution system. The network is a private blockchain shared only by participants in the pharmaceutical industry’s distribution chain. The idea fits perfectly with the track and trace rules. The law says there must be a way to track prescription drugs through the whole supply chain using compatible systems.
MediLedger, a project started by big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Genentech, wants blockchain technology to make this happen. Ambrosus is one of the most ambitious initiatives in this field; its main product, AMB-net, is a blockchain-based IoT network for supply chain purposes, focusing on the food and pharmaceutical industries. Companies can build their unique supply chain systems on top of AMB-net. MODsense T1 from Modum is a temperature sensor for tracking the conditions in the supply chain of pharmaceuticals. This helps meet the regulatory requirements for Good Distribution Practice (GDP) of medicines for human use.
We can use blockchain technology to store sensor data and other digital information. Many competing blockchain-based supply chain solutions highlight healthcare and medicine as critical use cases. For instance, BlockVerify advertises its supply chain solution for preventing counterfeits in the pharmaceutical industry. BlockVerify tags are used in the proposed system to document the provenance of items on a distributed ledger.
Use Case 6: Blockchains in Neuroscience
The amount of coverage given to blockchain’s potential uses in several industries, including neuroscience, is rising. With today’s neural technology, we can eventually operate our devices and data with just our thoughts rather than engaging with them physically.
Neural gadgets of this type can read a person’s mental state from data on their brain activity and translate that into commands for operating external equipment. Neural interface devices with several sensors, processing chips, and wireless connectivity can read and analyze brain signals. They detect brainwaves, decode them, and send the information to the machinery they’re in charge of. All of this happens in one device the person wears on their head.
Complex algorithms and big data will use blockchain to keep those brain signals on the neural interface. Neurogress is one of the businesses that intend to use blockchain technology. The company was founded in 2017 and is based in Geneva. Its main goal is to build neural-control systems so people can use their thoughts to handle robotic arms, drones, smart appliances, and AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) devices.
The core of Neurogress is a control system that relies on machine learning to increase the accuracy of its brain-reading capabilities; this needs to keep 90% of brain data to educate the AI. The company’s whitepaper states that the Human Brain Project requires “exabytes (1 exabyte = 1 billion gigabytes) of memory” to store “big data of neural user activity.” So, it’s unsurprising that Neurogress wants to use blockchain, which it thinks “effectively solves the problem of data storage security and privacy.”
Storing user information on a distributed ledger blockchain makes such information “resistant to hacking attacks” and, therefore, more secure. At the same time, using blockchain technology makes the Neurogress system “open and clear to potential users of the Neurogress platform services.” The method will “ensure security and confidentiality of personal data” because any strange behavior would be easy to track down.
So, it’s clear that blockchains are a type of information technology that will have many important uses in the future. For example, they can help with brain augmentation, modeling, and thinking. To digitize a whole human brain, you need a way to store it; this is where blockchain technology comes into play again.
One idea is to keep personal thought chains’ data in sharable “mind files” on a decentralized network file system that supports versioning over time. This perspective on blockchains describes them as an input-processing-output (I/P/O) computing system with several capabilities that we may apply to AI, human augmentation, or both. Blockchain lets a network of computers linked to each other shake hands every time a timestamp is added to a ledger to prove where it came from and that it is true.
Suppose we were to start from scratch and design a brain. In that case, this trust mechanism may allow networks of neurons to accurately store and retrieve information about what is subjective and what is objective about any given experience. In a blockchain, multi-factor authentication linking to a personal thought chain offers the possibility of securely constructing a quantified-self data commons. This kind of data commons breaks down the silos of people’s data while giving each person control over their privacy and how they share their experiences, possibly to make money without a third party or controlled authority.
At some point in the future, we could use a more advanced version of this technology to put together the stories of two or more people who saw the same event from different points of view. This would give us a more accurate idea of what happened then. In an ideal world, this would make it possible to create virtual simulations of old memories and see things from someone else’s point of view.
Once we better understand how individual mappings to emotions and sensory events contribute to a given memory, we could add information from the senses (like sight, smell, etc.) to this future blockchain. The truth is that the technology to make this a reality is already in the works.
Wearable technology, current brain and nerve implant technology, biofeedback imaging, and any other sensors that allow a multi-factor fingerprint specific to a given human’s record of temporal experience may soon enable us to begin storing our sensory experiences. We can conduct research using these technologies to enhance human abilities like decision-making, learning, memory, and healing from injury.
Use Case 7: Analytics
Blockchain has the potential to significantly improve analytics in all three key areas: data, model, and computing.
To do better analytics, you need to be able to get to the correct data. Data are more critical than algorithms, especially in healthcare, where data can be very private. Researchers and analytics firms may acquire the necessary data more quickly and easily with blockchain-enabled HIE. Also, blockchain makes it easier to trust the data’s quality and attributes because it shows where it came from.
Blockchain can track data and analytics processes like training and validating prediction models. With this monitoring function, healthcare providers and governing bodies like the FDA will have more faith in the prediction models, boosting the likelihood of their implementation in clinical practice.
Using a blockchain network, you can combine the predictions of several models to make one robust model. The forecasts of an ensemble of models are usually more accurate than the predictions of a single model. Also, we can use crypto assets and character scores as incentives to get more people to join and submit better models. For example, Numerai is a hedge fund that makes financial estimates using crowd-sourced machine learning.
We can set up a similar system in health care to find cancer early. Modelchain has devised a plan for crowd-sourced machine learning that keeps patient information private. Participating sites in a private blockchain network share only model parameters used to build the final model. Individuals can also contribute predictions, with the right ones being rewarded and the wrong ones punished in a system similar to prediction models. For example, we can use this system in public health to identify the spread of diseases that are likely to become epidemics. For example, a bet was made on the spread of the Nipah virus in the United States using Augur, a decentralized prediction tool.
With more data and complicated models, the demand for computer resources is rising quickly. Research centers and businesses that do data analysis have servers or use Amazon, Google, or Microsoft’s services. With the advent of blockchain technology, decentralized computation has emerged as a third viable option for processing data. Golem, SONM, and other projects are creating promising open-source platforms for peer-to-peer computation. They have a stable user base, although a small one, and have published several early products.
Need Keeping data private while doing computations on them is one of the biggest challenges of autonomous computing. This is especially important in healthcare. Companies like Enigma and Oasis Labs are working on ways to make computation on the blockchain more private. Unlike traditional cloud computing services, blockchain claims to be cheaper, provide more secure data storage, and eliminate the need to rely on a single vendor. However, blockchain-based solutions are still in their infancy and must demonstrate their effectiveness in the real world.
Use Case 8: Telemedicine
Blockchain technology can also help improve telemedicine by adding a layer of trust between patients and healthcare workers. A blockchain-based telemedicine network can confirm professional identity and data integrity, provide transparency and traceability, and motivate players to act appropriately through reputation ratings and crypto tokens.
If these platforms continue to grow, it may become easier for the global supply and demand for healthcare services to balance out. A network like this can also include software services like Artificial Intelligence (AI), as long as the AI models are appropriately validated and regulated, and some proxy measures constantly measure their success.
Remote diagnostic services will likely be the first to use blockchain in telemedicine. Likely, testing services that only use quantitative and qualitative medical data analysis without a patient will be the first to use blockchain technology successfully. Many new businesses are opening up in this area, backing up this prediction. For example, many of these new businesses are targeting the dermatology industry, which relies heavily on interpreting patient images to arrive at a diagnosis.
Blockchain technology has enormous potential for changing the digital health sector. The eight use cases presented in this article highlight the breadth of blockchain’s applications in healthcare, ranging from ensuring data security and interoperability to streamlining supply chain management and clinical trials. Healthcare firms can use blockchain to expedite administrative operations, protect patient privacy, and improve the overall quality of treatment.
However, addressing the obstacles and limits associated with blockchain deployment, such as scalability and regulatory issues, is critical. Blockchain has the potential to alter the future of healthcare by making it more patient-centric, efficient, and transparent with sustained research, innovation, and collaboration. Blockchain holds promise for a more connected and resilient healthcare ecosystem as we traverse the evolving digital world.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What exactly is blockchain, and how does it function?
Blockchain is a distributed digital ledger that keeps track of transactions across numerous computers. It works by constructing a chain of blocks, each of which contains a list of transactions. These blocks are connected together via cryptographic procedures, which ensure the data’s immutability and transparency.
2. How does blockchain protect the privacy and security of electronic health records
Blockchain uses encryption and consensus procedures to maintain security and anonymity. The data on the blockchain is encrypted, and each transaction requires validation from numerous network participants. Users can also govern their own data and assign access permissions as needed.
3. What are the benefits of employing blockchain in clinical trials?
Blockchain in clinical trials can improve trial data transparency, traceability, and integrity. It provides secure data exchange across stakeholders, eliminates tampering and fraud, allows for real-time monitoring, and streamlines processes such as informed consent and data sharing agreements.
4. How does blockchain help healthcare supply chain management?
Blockchain enhances healthcare supply chain management by providing an immutable record of each transaction, from product origin to delivery. It improves inventory management, enhances transparency, eliminates counterfeiting and fraud, and allows for speedier and more effective recalls.
5. Can blockchain assist in improving drug adherence?
By facilitating the secure sharing of patient data between healthcare practitioners and systems, blockchain has the potential to increase medication adherence. It can help with drug tracking, reminders, and smart contracts to encourage adherence. Other elements, such as patient participation and education, are also important in addressing drug adherence.
6. How does blockchain improve telemedicine and remote patient monitoring security?
Blockchain improves telemedicine and remote patient monitoring security by creating a secure and tamper-proof record of patient data. It facilitates safe information sharing between patients and healthcare providers, maintains data integrity, and prevents illegal access or modification.
7. Are there any constraints or difficulties in utilizing blockchain in healthcare?
Scalability constraints, regulatory concerns, interoperability with existing systems, the necessity for defined protocols, and potential privacy threats connected with public blockchains are some of the limitations and obstacles to integrating blockchain in healthcare. Furthermore, the adoption and integration of blockchain technologies necessitate substantial investment and engagement among parties.
8. What are the prospects for blockchain in digital health in the future?
Blockchain has the potential to transform digital health in the future by enabling secure and interoperable health data interchange, tailored therapy based on genomic data, efficient healthcare supply chain management, expedited health insurance claims, and decentralized health data marketplaces. It could also improve AI-powered diagnostics, telemedicine, and patient-controlled data sharing, resulting in more patient-centered and efficient healthcare systems.