Every day we are witnessing the growing applications of blockchain beyond finance and healthcare seems to one of the areas. Healthcare is one of the promising areas especially in aspects of information sharing and security and efficiency of handling healthcare data.
Why is this important?
In the current healthcare system one of the main challenges is access to timely information and data across different institutions. this is twofold: patients and the medical practitioners. Having a system that ensure timely and accurate access to information could be critical in ensuring timely resolution of patients illness. The way existing databases are set up is such that there is limited information sharing across networks, prone to security breaches and centralization of knowledge and control.
Lets remember that in simple terms blockchain is a ledger, a distributed ledger that stores information in a secure and immutable way. It’s like the existing databases but now with no one central authority being in full control. The aspect of distributed ledger means that many people within the network are able to see whatever is happening on the network, propose and implement changes.
since now we know that information on blockchain can be accessed by all within the network, what will it mean for information privacy. Ie critical research and patient data can be seen by anyone with access to the network. The solution could be permissioned blockchains, meaning that the system is decentralized but only within a specific network. Only authorized entities have access and no one party can alter the information without consensus with others. Permissoned blockchains have limits to who can transact within the blockchain and this could prevent anyone with ill intention or not an interested party to have access. Also, developers could make it in such a manner everyone interested can read but not anyone can edit. This concept is already being experimented with companies such as Ripple.
Mediledger is an example of project building permissioned blockchain network for pharmaceuticals in USA. The idea is to bring together players in the pharmaceutical industry in order to set open standards and regulations. Therefore nodes, (those who can verify information) are distributed within the different pharmaceutical companies. This would allow tracking and verification of all drugs in the market and can be traced to a specific company. With interoperability (exchange/compatibility of systems within different companies), there would be more efficiency, reduction of costs, reduce counterfeits. This model could work anywhere even in Kenya whereby pharmaceuticals can use to track drugs and prevent counterfeits from proliferating the industry. With a permissioned blockchain among players in the industry, it is possible to track drugs from the lab to the patient in a secure, decentralized and efficient way.
Another interesting project is ROBOMED that argues patients should pay based on outcomes not the process. Value based healthcare for out of pocket services.Through smart medical contracts, patients are able to choose the type of service they want on a smart contract. Based on what the patients inputs, the Robomed network navigates the system to find the most optimal guideline, I am thinking it also depends on the nearest available medical service provider. All this is encoded on the smart contracts through collaborations with expert doctors. The doctors or specialists receive income only when the outcomes in the smart contract are met not after completing the process.
What is evident is that blockchain may not necessarily revolutionize the core of healthcare itself-like new ways of curing diseases, but the way data is collected, shared and stored. Evidently, the data access, storage and sharing seems to be a big area that takes huge chunks of time and resources to manage. The existing centralized databases suffer mainly from lack of cooperation, between different entities within the system. Creation of permissioned common database of health information by doctors, industry service providers etc could herald a new era of more cooperation, higher security of records and sharing research across institutions which could fast track new discoveries and treatment. I understand that in the current situation, it is almost impossible for medical practitioners to share research and insights across different institutions and this is one of the reasons it takes long to make new discoveries. Sean Parker, former Napster, Facebook, launched Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy that would see more collaborations between practitioners in a bid to tackle cancer through immunotherapy.He identified that one of the main reasons why there was slow progress in cancer research is lack of IP sharing among institutions in the industry. So a framework was developed that saw up to 6 cancer research institutions pool together resources, knowledge and information in such a manner that a breakthrough made by one party is immediately available to all within the network. The hope is that this model would see faster development, research and discoveries instead of working in silos. I think we are bound to see more of this.
The idea is not to present these as solutions but important developments that could propel progress in the field in the coming months and years, it will be interesting to see how these come about with more real world application. What is for sure that there is much needed efficiency in the field and blockchain could help tackle some of that.