In this article, we will shed light on how the distributed ledger technology will change healthcare and medicine
What is blockchain?
“Blockchain” became the most popular term of 2017, however, a lot of people still don’t know what it is. If we were to describe blockchain technology in one simple sentence it would be the following:
Blockchain is a completely new way of transferring money without the participation of traditional banking networks, as well as a form of data storage in a transparent and unchangeable fashion.
However, the distributed ledger technology is far from only being applicable in the finance sector. In reality, this is a solution for such boring, but necessary areas of human activity as the transfer of property rights, sea freight logistics, tracking the source of raw materials, ensuring food safety and others.
If you believe that blockchain isn’t relatable to people, then let us examine how it can change something that everyone is concerned about: medicine and healthcare.
Storing and exchanging medical data
When someone is trying to explain what blockchain is, often the analogy of medical information props up.
Imagine a digital medical file cabinet. Each entry here is similar to a block with a unique creation time. The system is designed in such a way that it is impossible to change this date in any way: it is necessary that all records about diagnostics and treatment go in chronological order. Access to the information is only for the doctor and the patient. Each of them has their own private key. A third person, for example, an administrator or an invited specialist, can get the information from the record only if the doctor or the patient share their key with them.
This is no mere analogy, but one of the most obvious uses of blockchain technology in healthcare. Today it is virtually impossible to control what’s going on with your medical record and what is being written down in it. With blockchain this could change, and you will be able to decide, what data regarding your health will be stored and whom to share it with.
The matter of data exchange has another side to it: there is no unified system of data storage, from which different organizations could acquire the necessary data. This problem is most common when medical attention is required abroad.
Several companies are already attempting to solve this issue with blockchain. An American company SimplyVitalHealth has developed a system called ConnectingCare for the exchange of patient data between several clinics and is preparing to expand it.
The algorithms of the system give recommendations on how to maximize the use of the capabilities of different clinics in order to preserve the benefits of medical facilities and simplify the life of patients. Within the system of the clinics receive rewards.
In addition to that, SimplyVitalHealth is developing its own Ethereum fork called Health Nexus - a protocol specially designed for the needs of the healthcare industry.
Other major companies are also looking into this matter. Last year IBM Watson Healthcare said that they are beginning to research the use of blockchain in data exchange of cancer patients.
Tracking supply chains
This is one of the most well-known uses of blockchain, and it also is appropriate for medicine. It’s almost impossible to find out where the medicine came from in the pharmacy and whether its certificate is authentic. If all the information, from the moment of release to the moment of getting into the pharmacy, was stored in a blockchain, you would be able to see the whole chain and, relying on the immutability of the blocks in the blockchain, be certain that nothing changed during transportation.
Currently, the MediLedger project is engaged in developing such a technology, in which a major player in the industry Pfizer is taking part. The team is using blockchain to build an electronic search system and in the future control the distribution of drugs that are sold only through prescriptions. It is planned that the nodes of the system will become the largest pharmaceutical companies, as well as organizations taking part during different stages of the supply chain of drugs and medical institutions.
Blockchain doctors and AI
Some are afraid, others are happy that most jobs will soon be taken by robots. And this also applies to the medical sphere. For example, the company doc.ai is developing a blockchain-platform, where patients can discuss their medical data with specialized artificial intelligence doctors.
The project aims to help healthcare companies improve the quality of patient care through an improved natural dialogue system that can generate information from medical data.
Bonus: Biohacking and blockchain
Healthcare varies, and its alliance with blockchain also takes on different forms. One fan of crypto-currencies and biohacking decided to combine his hobbies. A resident of the Netherlands, Martin Wismeyer, in order to protect his cryptocurrency from hackers, implanted an NFC chip in his hand with the bitcoins stored on it together with the access key.
The marketing manager of crypto ATMs General Bytes stores only small amounts of crypto on his chip, enough for a maximum of one cup of coffee or a glass of beer, Wismeyer does this for his own safety. The operation cost only $75, so if you like the idea of storing cryptocurrency in such a fashion, we recommend you follow Wismeyer's example and not store too much on your person.
by Henry Addams