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The case for blockchain in healthcare

Blockchains in healthcare have a potentially wide application, from drug discovery to the development of personalized (or precision) medicine, the latter allowing patients and their medics to develop individualized care. They represent another dimension to disruptive digital health technology.

Eye-catching sign on the window of the Wellcome Centre in London  September 2017.

Eye-catching sign on the window of the Wellcome Centre in London, September 2017.

The case for the introduction of blockchains comes from Helen Disney, who is the CEO and Founder of Unblocked Events (a hub for blockchain events, information and commentary). Disney sets out the case on the health site PharmaPhorum.

Disney notes that blockchain offers the a future healthcare system based on a shared, decentralized platform which would enable any authorized party to access to health data, without compromising security or patient confidentiality. Data integrity is in-built since a blockchain is time-stamped and each activity cannot subsequently be changed.

Other calls for the use of blockchains in healthcare come from Yuji Yamamoto, who has written an article for the Japan Medical Association Journal (“Healthcare and the Roles of the Medical Profession in the Big Data Era”).

Yamamoto’s article looks at clinical trials and makes the point that so much data has not been gathered in relation to medicines and their efficacy that this exceeds the capacity of humans to adequately process it. The link to clinical trials tallies with an IBM report called “Healthcare Rallies for Blockchains – Keeping Patients at the Center”. Here there are potential benefits with control and access to clinical trial records, regulatory compliance and medical health records.

Another call comes from Reenita Das, writing in Forbes. Das seems some of the applications of blockchains in healthcare as:

The first area is with health data interoperability, integrity and security. This is important for portable user-owned data. Importantly, blockchain could enable data exchange systems that are cryptographically secured and irrevocable.
The second area is with claims adjudication and billing management.
The third area is with controlling drug supplying and dealing with the dangerous menace counterfeit medicines.
The fourth area is with tightening up security in relation to the healthcare Internet of Things.

As a recent case, in Estonia, for example, the eHealth Authority has entered into an agreement with the blockchain company Guardtime to secure the health records of its citizens. According to the company, the Estonian eHealth Foundation uses Oracle technology to process and store the patient records and Guardtime’s KSI blockchain will be integrated at the Oracle database engine.

These visions of the near-future present ways for researchers to share information; for governments to accelerate e-services; and for patients to gain more control over their own healthcare information. For patients, this would be relatively secure since each person connected to a blockchain healthcare network would have a secret private key and a public key that act as an openly visible identifier.

For more on blockchain application for healrthcare, see the Digital Journal article “Blockchains set to transform healthcare.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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