Healthcare providers, from clinics, to private practices, to hospitals, are all moving to digitised patient records. And, in this transformation, many are also doing their best to standardise and synthesise patient records into collaborative databases, so that all practitioners can access the full patient history of those they treat.
Add to this, the increasing demand that patients also have access to their health records, and that patients who choose care outside of their normal “networks” may not have those records entered into the primary database that houses them, and you can have a hodge-podge of electronic health records on a single person.
Clearly, providers and patients both want better electronic health records standardisation. And among healthcare technology experts, that answer can lie in blockchain technology.
What Blockchain Can Do for Medical Records
Yes, blockchain tech was originally developed as a distributed ledger-like accounting platform for cryptocurrencies. But the technology is really generic and can be used for any type of record-keeping that must be secure and unchangeable, with access only granted to stakeholders. But even those stakeholders cannot get in and change any transaction or record.
That would entail change everything in the chain that went before it, and that would be impossible for any single or group of individuals to do. The promise of blockchain technology for a multitude of uses is now just being considered. But for healthcare, it holds some pretty amazing potential.
Think about it. Every patient record or interaction with a healthcare provider from anywhere would be entered into a single standardised ledger. Thus, if an individual received care while on a European trip, that information would be available to his/her provider back in his home country of Japan, let’s say. Here is how that would happen:
- Patient A sees a doctor and gets X-rays, maybe some blood work, and a prescription. That doctor, X-ray tech, and pharmacist all validate what they did, through an access key.
- Each transaction is then timestamped and is placed within a block of other transactions occurring at the same time, and that block is then linked to the one before it in a chain.
- Providers no longer have to send information back and forth over unsecure networks. Everything is securely housed in blocks
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Patient/Individual Use of Blockchain in Wellness
Not only will individual patients be able to access their complete and accurate health history through blockchain ledgers, they can also contribute to their own wellness plans in the same manner. As David Michigan, health and fitness trainer points out:
People have come to understand that they have a role to play in their overall health. It’s not just a matter of checkups, doctor visits, and pharmaceutical records. It’s a matter of setting up wellness plans through diet and exercise too. They and their coaches can set goals and benchmarks and these can all be placed into blockchain ledgers as well. Individual, coach and even healthcare providers can see actual activity and progress.
Blockchain and Public Health
As machine learning and big data analysis also enters the healthcare climate, there will come methods by which health data can be extracted from blocks to demonstrate patterns of wellness and disease by populations or by geography. Public health agencies can use this data as they plan for pending epidemics and for research on populations or locations. And the best part? These agencies will know that the data they collect is “clean,” having been placed in a secure blockchain.
Blockchain and the Pharmaceutical Industry
Yet another promise that blockchain technology holds is in the tracking of every pill or vial of medicine from its point of manufacture to the patient’s hands. Thus, the supply chain will be tamper-proof. It is estimated that such technology could save the up to $200 billion by reducing counterfeit and/or substandard drugs.
There are a number of prototypes currently in the research stages. One is through MIT Media Lab, testing a pilot known as MedRec. It has tracked 6-months of medication data on both in and outpatients at Beth Israel Hospital, and the results have been quite promising. The plan is to launch other pilots extending to other hospitals. Other pilots are occurring outside of the U.S. as well. All in all, blockchain is holding promise.
Considering the massive developments in healthcare; considering that public health is now global in nature; considering that patients use an increasing number of specialists for their healthcare needs; and considering that tracking all procedures, medications, and interactions between patients and healthcare providers, there are just mountains of records to maintain and track. At the same time, single government efforts have not been comprehensive, nor do they cross geographic boundaries.
Blockchain technology holds a great deal of promise for breaking the barriers that result in less than great patient care, both individually and as demographic groups. When IoT, machine learning, and big data analysis are added to this technology, moreover, many see a seamless and fully trustworthy powerhouse that can ultimately provide the highest quality of patient care we can imagine.
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