Written by Bruce Silcoff, CEO of Shyft Network
Healthcare is a hotly contested issue across the globe. Despite recent legislation seeking wide-reaching reform in the US healthcare infrastructure, such as the Affordable Care Act, it’s estimated that Americans will soon spend roughly 20% of its total GDP on medical services. As population density rises and wealth disparity expands, healthcare spending is becoming one of the more globally decisive issues of our time. With disagreement on how to proceed, many have suggested blockchain technology as a potential solution to slash costs and increase efficiency within the industry.
Historically, one of the key obstacles to significant healthcare reform has been due to data privacy rules. While much of the world adapts to the digital age, the transition from paper to digital healthcare records has been a costly, complex, and lengthy process. Data privacy laws, most notably the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPPA) Act, have quashed efforts to store private records on centralized databases, and, as evidenced by large-scale hacking events around the world, it’s not without merit. In July, hackers breached the Singapore government’s healthcare infrastructure, accessing the data from 1.5 million patients. The event followed an estimated 3.14 million patient records that were breached in over 142 disclosed healthcare breaches from April to June 2018.
It’s a problem that calls for a decentralized solution — one largely unaffected by the increasingly elusive tactics of bad actors in the system. Using blockchain technology, records can be placed on a distributed ledger of information that is both validated and encrypted by other participants in the network, making it near-impenetrable in comparison to its more vulnerable counterparts. For a hacker to access patient information on a blockchain, not only would they have to hack one computer, they would have to hack them all. For proponents of healthcare reform, the hope is that blockchain technology will be able to quell concerns from skeptics that argue that the digitalization of patient information will open the floodgates to the dissolution of privacy.
In addition, once a record has been added to the blockchain, it cannot be edited or removed — ensuring that no matter what hospital you visit or what city you live in, your records are easily accessible. Not only is this a time- and money-saver, but it also allows for more complete and holistic care. Imagine the potential cost-savings that medical professionals can provide to patients when their prior medical history is available at the touch of a button. Healthcare providers can foster the creation of a more efficient, and more accurate, patient intake process, all without increasing spending premiums on patients.
For clinical trials, this level of records-retention can mean the difference between accepting or denying a prospective patient from treatment. With heightened access to medical histories, doctors can more accurately select from an ideal pool of individuals that are not only healthy enough to withstand the trial, but are also the most in need. In August, artificial intelligence (AI) health insurance plan provider Anthem and healthcare technology company doc.ai announced the beginnings of a cutting-edge clinical trial that will use information inputted on the blockchain to anticipate when specific medical reactions will occur. In a statement, IBM Watson Health Chief Science Officer Shahram Ebadollahi said that blockchain enables the ecosystem of data in healthcare to have more fluidity, and AI allows us to extract insights from the data.”
Globally, the immutability of blockchain has the potential to provide an estimated half of the world with access to healthcare services. For years, lack of technological advancement has thwarted many in developing countries from gaining access to proper medical services. However, through blockchain, these individuals can input health records on a decentralized ledger that can be accessed by philanthropic organizations looking to provide aid to specific areas in need. At a time when epidemics such as Ebola and Zika are moving at unprecedented rates, and traditional remedies are failing to adequately address the issue, blockchain technology may stand as the solution many have been waiting for.
The journey to widespread adoption is only beginning. A recent survey conducted by IBM revealed that 16% of healthcare executives are planning to incorporate blockchain technology into their facilities within the next year. By 2020, an estimated more than 1 in 2 healthcare organizations will adopt some form of blockchain technology into daily operations. While there are still notable hurdles to cross before every hospital employs blockchain technology, industry professionals are already beginning to use blockchain-integrated innovations to provide the highest quality care to patients. Who knows, one day, it may hold the key to universal healthcare.