The term ‘Blockchain’ denotes a shared immutable record, of a chain of transactions, each comprising one block, with the blocks being held together by cryptographic keys (“hashes”). These keys or signatures are stored in shared ledgers, joined by a mesh of nodes, or processes that connect them. Each node has a copy of the whole chain, being constantly synchronized and kept up to date.
How Blockchain Can be Helpful in Healthcare Domain?
The blockchain technology can be very helpful in integrating of healthcare information, which is currently scattered, with a range of service providers. Since it is a distributed network, blockchain-based systems can be useful for integration of several intermediaries in the medical care system. Such systems can be used in storing longitudinal patient histories that can be used by consumers, companies, and medical service providers. One of its major advantages is interoperability among institutions and service providers. Blockchains can result in improved data integrity, decentralization and help in reducing transaction costs. They can also help in delivering precision medicine, improving patient care and outcomes, and the connecting medical records across a nation. This could be a boon in emergency situations as hospitals can easily access data rather than collect medical histories from individual patients.
By combining these functions, blockchains can result in real-time patient monitoring and updating patient data by tracking different nodes using Internet of Things (IoT). Combined with a database, it can be used by medical care providers and a range of intermediaries. In this way, it allows for quick way of accessing patient records across service providers, thereby reducing costs, and improving collaboration between health institutions.
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Blockchains can form the basis of Health Information Exchange (HIE) and the Integrating the Health care Enterprise (IHE). Further, by linking the system across functions such as insurance companies, financial and operational services, revenue cycles and supply chains, back-office data input and maintenance costs can be significantly reduced . Data accuracy and security are added benefits. Countries could ultimately develop their nation-wide health information systems based on a seamless sharing of data. The benefits of integrating the medical network will also yield low cost solutions and virtual health systems in the long run. In summary, blockchain technology can be used in several key data-driven healthcare areas, including health care records, health claims, interoperability, patient access, and supply chains
Advantages and Issues with Blockchain Technology Applications in healthcare
Key concerns with blockchain technology applications in healthcare include:
- Network infrastructure security at all levels
- Identity verification and authentication of all participants
- Uniform patterns of authorization to access electronic health information
Digital ledger technology (DLT) can be applied in many healthcare areas, but all activity within healthcare is not linked to transactions. However, public blockchains cannot be used to store private information such as identifying health data, because the data in them is widely accessible. This transparency mandates that providers consider privacy issues to ensure protected health information (PHI).
Secondly, blockchain technology is vulnerable to some types of attacks, though it offers inbuilt protection against others. The blockchain code lays it open to zero day attacks and bugs, as well as social engineering. Thus, information security must be paid intensive attention especially when used in healthcare. Blockchain technology should not be used indiscriminately in healthcare, since its data is immutable. Large files, or those which change often, may be kept out. All identifying data should be kept off the chain.
Blockchain technology has the potential to transform health care, placing the patient at the center of the health care ecosystem and increasing the security, privacy, and interoperability of health data. While it is not a panacea, this new, rapidly evolving field provides fertile ground for experimentation, investment, and proof-of-concept testing. A blockchain powered health information exchange could unlock the true value of interoperability. Blockchain-based systems have the potential to reduce or eliminate the friction and costs of current intermediaries.
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The promise of blockchain technology applications in healthcare has widespread implications for stakeholders in the health care ecosystem. Capitalizing on this technology has the potential to connect fragmented systems to generate insights and to better assess the value of care. In the long term, a nationwide blockchain network for electronic medical records may improve efficiencies and support better health outcomes for patients.