Today electronic health records of an individual are in a very unstructured manner and controlled by health care providers in their respective central databases. These databases lack interoperability, security and are vulnerable to hacking.
Although we have computers in nearly every medical facility and mobile phones in every pocket we still face difficulty in collecting exchanging and sharing our medical history with the new doctor. Sharing medical data between various healthcare providers while maintaining the privacy and integrity of the patient’s data is the biggest challenge that health care systems face today.
The healthcare system is not digitized everywhere in the world.
Many healthcare providers still follow the traditional process and provide the prescriptions on paper and graphs. In such a scenario, it becomes difficult for both patients and healthcare providers to refer to these prescriptions whenever required in the future. The healthcare systems work in silos and lack interoperability. Even the healthcare systems of different departments within the same hospital are unable to interact with each other so you can very well imagine the level of difficulty when systems of different care providers have to interact with each other in case of emergency conditions or if a patient wants to change the healthcare provider, it becomes challenging for him to procure his clinical history and share that with the new service provider.
All diagnostic tests have to be performed again to know the exact problem. Thus resulting in delayed treatment and further aggravation of the issue.
When the doctor is treating a patient who needs emergency care, it becomes very difficult for him to know if the patient is allergic to any specific medicine.
He has to be extra cautious and has to perform the drug allergy tests to validate this because the consequences can be quite dire if the patient is administered any such medicine that he is allergic to. It is nearly impossible for hospital pharmacies to have a clear picture of the patient data.
This in turn becomes a challenge for them to predict the inventory required to meet the needs of the hospitals.
For example, in case of a sudden outbreak or due to some seasonal diseases the pharmacist can go out of stock due to the non-availability of this data.
Further, the drug shortages lead to delayed treatment and force healthcare providers and patients to shift to alternate medicines which in turn decreases the effectiveness of the treatment.
Telemedicine can not be used as effectively either. Every time a patient consults online he is required to fill in all his history details.
There is no effective way for patients to share their health data with their healthcare providers effectively through remote technology. Most of the health reports and consultations are on paper thus making it cumbersome to be shared online to avail these telemedicine services.
Now let’s see how Blockchain can solve these issues. Every patient will have a unique identity over blockchain network and his clinical data generated at various stages will be associated with this unique identity as an Electronic health record Digital Asset. Blockchain technology can provide a truly interoperable network.
Whenever a patient will undergo any diagnostic test or consultation, this information will be incorporated into the patient’s unique electronic health chain.
Even the health-related data collected from smart devices can also be securely incorporated into it.
This EHR data can then be easily exchanged among various health providers as and when needed.
This would even reduce the cost of healthcare treatment by avoiding redundant diagnostic tests. And most importantly, the health care provider can provide better patient care on the basis of this accurate data. While Blockchain technology, will help the individuals to maintain their electronic health records, smart contracts will ensure that only authorized healthcare providers can access these Health Records
The individuals or patients will be the owners of this medical data. The hospitals or research institutes will require encrypted keys to get access to the patient’s data. The patient will have the provision to select who can access the information and for what duration. Individuals can also pre-authorize the health care providers to see their information during any unforeseen emergencies.
The technology also offers flexibility to individuals either to reveal their identity or share their data anonymously or pseudo anonymously they can even decide what part of the information should be shared with these care providers. Once implemented, the electronic health records on blockchain will serve as a common and integrated backbone for the healthcare industry.
It will also reduce the overhead costs for hospitals and healthcare providers.
This transparent system can help the government to effectively identify the needed citizens for which the health schemes have been started. The hospitals can give the controlled and needed access to their pharmacies to maintain the required inventory so as to prevent the shortage of medicines and thus prevent any delay of medical care to the patients. During emergency cases, the doctor rarely has access to the patient’s clinical history.
He has to perform all the required tests that result in delayed treatment.
Through his EHR on the blockchain, the doctor can easily access the patient’s clinical history and thus the need of doing redundant tests will be avoided that can fasten the treatment and cut down the medical costs at the same time. The healthcare providers can also be made cognizant of the allergies and drug incompatibilities of the patient through the EHR on the blockchain. In the current scenario, a doctor is required to perform the drug allergy tests again as the allergic medicine can further worsen the condition of a patient.
Let us understand it through an example, a patient is allergic to a specific drug say penicillin.
He gets some bacterial infection and visits a doctor for his treatment.
If the doctor has access to the patient’s medical history he will be aware of the fact that the patient has an allergy to penicillin and subsequently he will prescribe him some other medication avoiding penicillin thus taking care of any unwanted medical error and any further health complication. The distributed hyper ledger technology will also play a critical role in better adoption and working of telemedicine and remote monitoring, In case the patient is unable to physically visit the health care provider, he can easily share his previous health records remotely and get medical advice while sitting at his home.
Telemedicine can reduce clinic visits and can also save the commutation time required to visit the clinic.
IoT devices along the blockchain can provide real-time data on vital patient measurements such as blood pressure heartbeat etc. for better diagnosis.
It will also assist in timely follow-ups with doctors, thus making it easier to detect early signs of certain serious health conditions.
Last but not least this technology would be a great help for the people who live in rural areas and don’t have access to good medical facilities.
It can be a great opportunity for better collaboration between the health care providers as well.
They can share the patient’s information with each other to get expert advice with the due consent of the patient on the blockchain. The growing trend of consumer health variables like Fitbit, health bands, apple health kits, and watches is ushering in a new era of consumerization of healthcare.
These devices record the daily data and activities of the consumer like calories, step counts, miles, heart rate, etc. With blockchain technology, all this daily data can be clubbed with other medical health care data like clinic visits, demographics, allergies, lab tests, and much more.
Further, with the implementation of smart contracts, this data can be used to provide better medical care and monitoring by doctors.
Let us understand it through a practical world scenario. Andrew is diagnosed with fatty life and therefore Dr. Steve designed a special exercise regimen for him. A smart contract is set between them to check whether Andrew is sticking to the regimen prescribed by the doctor. Andrew’s wearable smart gear, logs in his daily movements, his exercise regimen, and other essential data points. After every three days, 3 days the smart contract verifies if the terms of the contract are fulfilled. And Dr. Steve gets notified if Andrew fails to adhere to his exercise regimen continuously for 2 times.
Thus you can see smart contracts when clubbed with Blockchain can really be a game-changer for the healthcare industry. You will be shocked to know that your health data clubbed with millions of other users is sold by medical informatics companies to pharma companies for billions of dollars. Pharma companies use this bundled data for research and marketing purposes.
Of course, the name and other crucial identifying details are taken off before bundling and sharing the data of millions of users.
The biggest irony here is the fact that this data belongs to you and got recorded against the payment done by you or your insurance company.
But it gets sold without your prior knowledge and consent.
With blockchain, this situation is bound to change where you control your own data.
With this technology, you can share your data anonymously or with your actual identity. Once you give your approval on this, your consent will be recorded on the blockchain. The pharma companies can verify your consent by using a key that connects to the blockchain and can then use your data for medical research and marketing purposes.
Subsequently, you will be also given a pie of the revenue generated from this transaction. Additionally, it is going to be a great help for these pharma companies as well because having a direct relationship with the patient will help them in getting more valuable insights that are not feasible in the current world.