Blockchain is changing the way we view Healthcare: A Closer Look

When we hear blockchain, the first vertical market that comes to mind is financial services. Businesses in that industry are implementing blockchain solutions to provide secure and efficient transactions. When we think “transaction,” we usually think money, but blockchain is about much more than that –  its emergence is based on the transparency and process flow efficiency that it can provide in all types of transactions across a wide range of industries.

Although usually financial service companies are early adopters — healthcare companies are not often very far behind. Both of these industries have been quick to recognize  blockchain’s value and have quickly identified the unique set of challenges that blockchain can address. In fact, Both industries are such a great fit for blockchain, that vendors have created teams to help clients develop blockchain strategies. Mark Treshok, an IBM Associate Partner of Life Sciences and Healthcare, Blockchain, called blockchain “the perfect paradox,” allowing “faster access to trusted data, as well as facilitating better collaboration and increased transparency,” for the life sciences and healthcare industries.

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Overcoming Challenges to Blockchain Adoption in Healthcare

A recent study from the IBM Institute of Business Value (IBV) and Economist Intelligence Unit identified that there are a variety of challenges faced healthcare businesses as they try to implement new processes. The research, which was conducted in 18 different countries, with over 200 people participating, identified some of those challenges. First, different countries have different internal regulations pertaining to personal health and research, making it difficult for global businesses to standardize on processes. Second, ineffective existing processes make it difficult to implement new technology and processes within an already fragile infrastructure. Specifically, IBV also found that North America was lagging behind other regions because of both “immature technology,” as well as readjusting to the 2010 Affordable Care Act (no team or budget for innovational research).

The study concluded that, in spite of these roadblocks, 70 percent of all life science executives surveyed believe their companies will have a blockchain network in production by 2020. These results show that healthcare and life science professionals have committed to blockchain and recognize its value.

David Hamilton, Coin Central, offers his opinion, “Our current medical system is very localized and fragmented. There are hospitals, specialists, clinics, general practitioner, diagnostic clinics, and the list goes on.  As you can imagine, such a large patchwork of private and government organizations don’t meld well.  To put this into perspective, just the city of Boston has around 26 different electronic medical records systems currently in use.”

Inefficiencies like the City of Boston’s 26 separate electronic medical records systems, represent a great opportunity for blockchain but also hinder its speedy adoption. Paper based medical records in today’s world are extremely inefficient, but not uncommon.  However, if data is digitized, it can be consolidated securely, and actionable insights can be gathered from historical and current data. This means more accurate medical diagnoses and better patient outcomes.

The Benefits of Blockchain in Healthcare

In IBM’s Blockchain Unleashed blog, Mark Treshock discusses why being an early adopter of blockchain technology is advantageous in healthcare.  For one, the idea of blockchain has already started helping companies tackle bureaucratic processes and outdated legacy systems that are impacting business growth. Treshock also references the IBV study described earlier concluding healthcare executives,” hope that the technology will bring them closer to the patient, which is increasingly important in an industry where the business and the end-user are distanced by many intermediaries and there is a widespread lack of consumer trust.”

Treshock goes on to say, “In the face of competition and disruption, the First Mover advantage is a necessity: new entrants to the healthcare space are restructuring the industry, invading traditional business models and putting the entire existing system under torque. In the next five years, the healthcare space, as well as the life sciences industry, will look very different than they have in the last five years.”  Treshock believes that blockchain can be beneficial to both new entrants who have the opportunity to build systems and processes from scratch, as well as traditional players who need to cut costs and streamline the business in order to remain competitive.

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Blockchain Use Cases in Healthcare

Medicalchain and SimplyVital Health are examples of new businesses that are using blockchain technology to create secure health profiles.

Medicalchain

Medicalchain is focused on securely storing a patient’s medical records digitally, providing the ability to share those records with doctors, hospitals, laboratories, or even pharmacists. What is even more sophisticated about the solution is its ability to be an all in one medical platform. Using telemedicine patients can communicate with doctors online and set up online sessions to discuss health issues.  This is ideal for patients living in remote areas or those with medical conditions that restrict travel. Users also have the ability to pair third-party wearables with their profiles to share real-time dietary information, to create a discussion and help the doctor and users set health goals.

SimplyVital Health

SimplyVital focuses on providing a blockchain platform which connects providers regardless of their clinical affiliation or location. Boston based SimplyVital Health just recently announced a project with a Filipino company, The Cool Kids, to bring their open source Key Pair system to the Philippines. The Cool Kids plan on helping SimplyVital tackle local regulations within the country.

Summary Observations

Although the benefits of blockchain may be less apparent in healthcare/ life sciences than in financial services, they are no less significant. In an industry plagued by fraud, inefficiency, changing regulations, high costs, and life or death consequences, blockchain can make a major impact– reducing costs, improving processes, and providing easier access to information that will improve patient care. In our next blog, Clabby Analytics will take a deeper look at healthcare fraud; stay tuned.

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