Blockchain technology with its characteristic decentralization, anonymization, and transparency existed for quite some time in oblivion before its implementation came to light with the advent of Bitcoins in 2008. Bitcoins with 400 million completed transactions represent a solid use case based on which blockchain works. This sent many wondering if the same technology could be applied to a range of data-driven domains including healthcare.
A huge section of healthcare leaders foresees that the greatest impact of blockchain technology within the health domain should be the improvement of clinical trial management, regulatory compliance, and providing a decentralized framework for sharing electronic health records.
In spite of having the potential to greatly benefit healthcare information systems, the current hype around the technology tends to mislead with a series of unrealistic proposals and ideas. Also from the currently available literature, very little is fathomable with regards to the applications already developed, tested, and deployed.
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Facets of Healthcare Functions
The healthcare systems begin functioning with the diagnosis of the health problems, followed by a treatment plan, and finally moving on to actual care involving multidisciplinary expertise until the discharge of a patient. Hence it is safe to say that this sector is a problem-driven, data-and-personnel intensive domain where the ability to access, edit and trust the data emerging from its activities is critical for the operations of the sector as a whole.
When collaborating with educational institutes, the system must open the students access to patients, patient data and provide for an equipped space to impart quality training. This exercise would in the future guarantee the influx of skilled and qualified personnel.
Similarly, when collaborating with companies or institutes with research and engineering agendas, the healthcare system must open access to professionals, informants, test persons, and samples. When participating in clinical trials health institutes must support developing, planning, conducting, and reporting the experiments. This ensures the development of updated healthcare knowledge, methods, and tools from research and engineering companies and institutes.
Clearly the health institutions, educational institutes, and the biomedical research and engineering institute seamlessly exchange a volume of information to ensure smooth evolution and functioning of healthcare. To protect the patient’s privacy while maintaining the requisite information flow, access control, provenance, data integrity, and interoperability within the systems, are crucial.
Challenges in Healthcare Ecosystems
In order to integrate the whole healthcare ecosystems and implement it major setbacks arise in the form of
Storage and Data Transfer
Stakeholders involved in the healthcare systems generate thousands of segments of data each second. Accurately updating this information for records is crucial along with the space for storage and a secure channel for transfer maintaining the confidentiality of the patient.
The blockchain solutions may be cost-effective in the long run however at present its implementation entails the cost of building the applications, reorientation into the new system along with maintenance, security, and personnel training; the cost of which would call for government funding.
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Policies and Regulations
Health data being highly sensitive requires strict regulations guiding the personnel at work. With the introduction of electronic health records, more regulations have been in place to insulate the personnel from malpractice. Introduction into the whole new sphere of blockchain would necessitate new rounds of policy reviewing and worldwide. Thus leaving space for error and professionals exposed to thousands of lawsuits. This collection of challenges may lead to systems being non-receptive to the new technology unless bolstered by funds and strong assurance from the governments.