If we look at Blockchain technology, in its simplest form, it acts like an immutable and distributed record of events that are shared across a digital peer to peer network between several parties as a networked database system. This technology uses a decentralized approach where no single entity stores the data and the participants of the network have a shared responsibility for maintaining security and data integrity. With time stamp all changes in data are recorded, and it helps to authenticate such changes. This is suited to the way health systems work where records can be tracked concerning edits and when they happened and how different users access the data. This also helps in ensuring accountability and transparency in every step. Patients and providers can access records that are up to date, whether they are of test results, prescriptions, diagnoses, services are given, bills that are outstanding and so forth.
If Blockchain technology is incorporated in healthcare management, all data can be viewed, edited and shared in real time. There would be a coordinated approach towards healthcare management since Blockchain technology provides privacy controls and structured access. As patient data tend to be sensitive, Blockchain is suited to address different trust issues such as identification of patients, consent of patients, user authentication and provider’s controls and so forth. With such control, billing fraud, malpractice in claims processing can be reduced to a great extent. Experts refer to Blockchain as the chain of trust that can help improve accountability between peer groups.
Yee Kok Siong observes that even if Blockchain can have applicability in the healthcare sector, there are certain challenges that need to be overcome. As with any technology that is adapted in this sector, there are certain limitations that are inherent in Blockchain technology, which would make it unsuitable in certain kinds of applications. There can be limitations such as when low value and high-volume transactions need to be done through this platform. Blockchain protocol is important when it is being adapted for the health sector.
Healthureum is proposed as a platform that will create decentralized applications based on the Blockchain system and would have permission as well as permission free Blockchain transaction records development. This venture envisages certain key challenges that would need to be overcome if a Blockchain based transaction platform is to be created in the healthcare sector.
The first challenge that is envisaged is in terms of data compliance and regulations. The data that is stored by Blockchain is distributed, and it is not a centralized approach. Hence, it is difficult to save data within the virtual perimeters of a health organization’s database system. Hence, there can be breaches found in confidentiality as well as potential risks in integrity. There need to be adequate access controls, and permission layers added to make such a system compliant with the privacy regulations established by many regulatory boards and standards.
When it comes to medical records, there can be large scans and image-based files that can occupy large storage space which in turn can impact the performance of a Blockchain based database system. An efficient solution can be found to overcome such a challenge by creating reference points. With the use of hash codes that point to the source of data which in turn are stored in separate locations. The hash code will help to verify that the data remains integrated and can be pulled from a source. These sources need to have access control and allow only authorized people to access such data.
When it comes to medical devices, their use can be monitored by Blockchain technology. This can help remove the possibilities of blunders that are often made by medical devices due to an incorrect data feed or erroneous records. With the Blockchain based monitoring of such services, stricter controls can be set.
As per industry surveys that have been carried out by expert organizations, as many as 200 healthcare professionals across 16 countries have admitted that a proactive approach would be adopted if Blockchain based solutions are brought into commercial usage. It showcases a positive response to this technology. Even the NHS in England has stated that the technology is new, but it has potential to allow patients to manage their own health which can help to improve care services, promote efficiency and cut costs. This would be a step towards virtual health which will also help to build telehealth-based services.