The relationship between healthcare and blockchain is one of the most interesting subjects within the macrocosm of digital healthcare. The reasons are easily understood: essentially, the pillars on which the existence of the blockchain itself is founded are perfectly aligned with the needs of Healthcare organizations that have been trying to streamline their processes for a long time, allowing easy access to data and, above all, ensuring a level of protection and safety which, if possible, are even higher than that of other sectors. This is not just about drug traceability and anti-counterfeiting measures, actually, but also about the data containing the patients’ medical history, which must be protected at all costs. It is therefore no coincidence that, among the sectors most likely to adopt the blockchain, healthcare is invariably included: the relationship between blockchain and healthcare is therefore already a tight one, and the market could reach 5.6 billion US dollars by 2025 (source: BIS Research); furthermore, it is estimated that, once again by 2025, the blockchain will be able to generate savings for the industry in the range of 100-150 billion US dollars (source: healthcareweekly.com).
The main advantages of the blockchain
Within the complex phenomenon of digital healthcare, the blockchain offers a series of high level advantages, which can be based on the specific needs and typical applications of this industry. As is well known, in fact, the blockchain breaks down the principle of centralizing information and replaces it with a distributed ledger with strong transparency, accessibility and security features, in which the concept of trust is not guaranteed by an external entity but by the technology itself and its characteristics. Each of the actors involved in the blockchain, which are, technically, the nodes of a P2P (peer to peer) network, has a copy of the ledger, which is identical and consistent with that of all the others: this way the development of joint knowledge, that is to say, the information assets contained in the ledger, is a gradual process, based on the contribution of all the players of the chain and, above all, it is secure. Cryptography contributes to security, that is to the integrity of the chain, but above all the mechanism of register sharing and chronological linking of blocks, which makes a violation very difficult.
Healthcare and blockchain, the use cases
Speaking of healthcare and blockchain, one can question who the actors of the P2P network defined previously are. The answer, however, cannot be unambiguous, since it depends on the process in which the blockchain is used. For example, it could revolutionize the supply chains of the pharmaceutical industry: here, not only could the blockchain network streamline procedures in a clear way, but above all it could provide visibility and transparency on drug manufacturing and logistics processes. This way, not only could pharmaceutical companies make their supply chains more efficient, but they could combat in a much more effective way a real scourge in this industry: counterfeiting.
A secure electronic health file
Another use case with a disruptive potential is the electronic health file, which is the digital tool containing all of an individual’s medical history and health information. In this context, which is very far from the previous one even at the level of ‘actors’ of the chain, efficiency, transparency, accessibility of the data guaranteed by the blockchain are as important as the ‘by design’ security of the system, which would, in fact, have to do with extremely sensitive data. In this context, the blockchain would be able to enable an efficient system, capable of solving a problem that has historically always affected this sector, that is the fragmentation of reports and information. With the blockchain in healthcare, the patient, the doctor, the healthcare facility, but also the pharmacy and insurance, could interact in the same network, ‘creating’ the patient’s history day after day in a transparent and safe way, and developing interactions between them through the use of smart contracts. The patient, conversely, could provide whomever they want with access to the data – for example for scientific research purposes – on the basis of a small reward, which would, indeed, be automatically activated by a smart contract.
In this case, the blockchain would therefore offer several advantages: firstly, the greatest possible security due to the decentralization of the ledger, but most importantly it would allow people to regain ownership of their medical data. And it would not be a trivial matter: with a blockchain-based system, people could decide for themselves who to grant visibility and use of their data to, as previously described, but above all they could take it with them everywhere, making it available to the facility they prefer, even abroad. The blockchain could give the system a boost, allowing it to achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency, speed and safety.