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The demand to bring about revolutionary and evolutionary changes has always been an underlying ripple in every aspect of business, and in the field of healthcare this is done with a sense of inimitable urgency. High quality care coupled with the added advantage of reasonable costs leads to the “patient-centricity” concept, and health facilities are looking to provide this to all their patrons.

Every organization focuses on delivering high quality care to their customers, and when it is in the field of medicine, this requirement gets a boost several times over. However, the one main glitch is that the providers and payers are still the ones that control all the decisions that lead to care-service delivery and its data.

While focusing on quality health care, the health care services make sure that the patient’s health management is given top priority. And all the federal regulations are not making things any easier because they have really put the pressure on the health sector to provide effective patient care. To make this an absolute reality, it is important to remove the middlemen dependency. This is where Blockchain comes into the picture.

In simple words, Blockchain is a distributed ledger that can keep track of the transactions happening in a number of machines. However, it doesn’t allow the retroactive alterations of records as it is. You will have to alter subsequent blocks to maintain unity in transactions. Through this technology, a number of people handling the records and a community of users will be controlling the data, constantly amending and updating them.

And the interesting bit is that the technology plays a vital role in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It influences a host of businesses and industries, and the healthcare industry is actually one of them. In this article, we will look at some of the benefits of Blockchain with respect to its influence in the healthcare industry.

What is Blockchain Technology?

Blockchain technology is the new kid on the block that would produce massive breakthroughs in the healthcare industry as it can easily bring specific changes in the health care management of the patient. It is very powerful and can successfully improve the quality of patient care at a reasonable rate. The best thing about Blockchain technology is that it can remove all the challenges and hindrances that come with authentication at multiple levels.

It is built on distributed architecture and gives access to chronologically arranged relevant data for recording and storing transaction records. The technology works on the “append only” open ledger where the nodes within the network are authenticated and all the transactions that happen within this network will be added to the ledger.

Interestingly, Blockchain technology works on three major principles that are not new at all. In fact, these concepts have been around for a long time. They are just orchestrated together through this technology to secure safe and secure digital relationships.

  • Private key cryptography - A secure digital identity reference is created, but transactions are open on the network.
  • Distributed ledgers - Copies of the ledgers are always maintained. And the changes made in the ledgers are reflected within seconds.
  • Authentication - Before the ledgers are added to the chain, each new transaction is authenticated. This is done by running the algorithms to evaluate and verify all the proposed transactions. The information would be encrypted, digitally signed and stored, thereby sealing its authenticity.

Safety and security of the transactions are ensured because all the members in the network keep a complete copy of the blockchain and so it is not possible for a single member to make changes or alter data.

Though it is a fairly new technology, Blockchain is not just used in the healthcare industry. It has many practical use cases and its applications are far and varied. It acts as a self-management platform for:

  • Financial Services - To solve the problem posed by traditional systems as they could turn error-prone, maddeningly slow and cumbersome.
  • Asset Management - Reducing the errors when encrypting the records used in trade processes.
  • Insurance - Especially in the field of claims processing, to fight fraudulent claims, abandoned policies, etc.
  • Music Industry - Focusing on ownership rights, royalty distribution, etc.
  • Voting - Security in digital voting is ensured.
  • Supply Chain Sensors - End to end visibility of the supply chain is guaranteed.
  • Smart Appliances - Users enjoy more control over their devices.

How does Blockchain Work?

The three principles that we mentioned above play a major role in securing digital relationships in all the industries mentioned above. They work together in the following ways:

Cryptographic Keys

Through public key cryptography, Blockchain technology guarantees the elimination of double-spend problem. Each agent will have a private key, which will be kept private and secret like a password and a public key, which is public, of course, and can be shared with other agents. When the future owner of the digital tokens sends a public key to the original owner, a transaction starts.

The cryptographically generated addresses are stored in the blockchain in the form of public keys. The transactions that are done here would never reveal the person’s identity because the transactions in the crypto economy is done in the form of coins. They are traceable, but with no threat to privacy.

Distributed Network

Through the distributed network, you will be able to monitor when something happens. It is almost like placing a CCTV camera in a supermarket to discourage burglars. In this instance, instead of CCTVs, you will be using mathematical verification to ensure the security of the network. There could be several CCTVs monitoring a particular area through various angles, and similarly Blockchain acts as a distributed ledger while recording multiple transactions distributed across several computers.

Network Servicing Protocol

Public blockchains are so very important in mining. The distributed networks in the Blockchain technology independently service the network. They do not share, but they do compare the results of their work and reach a conclusion that something happened.

Each blockchain has a tailored process of verification. When each of the nodes reaches a consensus on how to conduct the transactions, corresponding rules and incentives will be created. The verification, type, amount, etc. are different for different blockchains, depending on the protocol on what is a valid transaction, and what is not.

How does Blockchain Work?
 

Where can Blockchain be Used in Healthcare?

As it is based on open source software, open API and commodity hardware, Blockchain technology has a number of advantages for healthcare IT. The architecture for the technology has components that facilitates faster, seamless interoperability between systems. Other advantages include scalability according to demand, disaster recovery, data encryption and cryptography technologies and built-in fault tolerance - the perfect ingredients for an indelible healthcare IT experience.

Apart from this superior level of technical advantage, patients, healthcare providers and other related individuals in the field can choose from a varied range of application choices and select options that would conform to their specific requirements. This is done by allowing patients, researchers in the medical field and the other people involved in the health care community to access the same shared data source on a timely basis and cinch accurate and comprehensive data related to the patient’s health.

Information is collected from a wide variety of health data sources like mobile devices, patient’s wearables, documents, EMRs and so on. Through Blockchain, it is also possible to accommodate unforeseen data in the future, making these data structures flexible and extendable.

Here are the various applications of the technology in healthcare.

Medical Data Management

Medical data management is a major advantage of Blockchain technology. By enabling health IT systems with the technology, all the existing challenges that the healthcare industry like security, reliability, privacy and even data interoperability are met with, and rendered non-existent. It gives timely access to data that healthcare professionals can use to make crucial diagnosis and deliver appropriate treatments. In fact, healthcare data becomes more easily managed, while saving money for payers, patients and even the providers.

Everyone related to the patient-care community can have their own local copy of the dataset, and when one person wishes to make changes to the data, they will have to go through a series of cryptographic criteria to be eligible enough to make changes. Once the edits are made, it would be turned into a ‘block’, approved and locked in place. The other members in the community will have to approve of the changes before they can be turned into blocks.

If the changes are made in a patient’s health record, then the patient can gain complete control on who can make changes in the data. And he/she can monitor the edits made, such as new diagnosis, limit people who can see sensitive medical conditions like mental health data and other parameters (setting different parameters for different kinds of data).

Billing and Claims Management

Billing and Claims Management is a process through which filing and processing of medical claims related to patient diagnoses, treatments and medications is done. Many institutions have fallen victim to data breaches where patient files are compromised leading to medical insurance fraud, theft and larceny. Through Blockchain technology, it is possible to thwart a good majority of these instances simply because the technology itself hinges on complex successions of data transactions. Greater auditability and traceability would help increase trust in the process, not to speak of the safe and manageable revenue cycle management that companies can follow.

Medical Research

Snooping in medical research is a serious issue that can be controlled successfully through Blockchain technology. Collaboration between the researchers and research participants in various innovative fields is initiated successfully. And it can ignite techniques that will do away with traditional methods of research and clinical care. This is because Blockchain can let the researchers reach a considerable level of historicity and inviolability of data throughout the clinical process.

In the medical research field, the proof of date is the main requirement, so this technology is really bringing about a paradigm shift. Timestamp is the main feature of each transaction made through Blockchain, and this information will be publicly transparent. The core functionalities of the technology include traceability and historicity of data, and users possessing the time-stamped data will become its owners. Frauds and errors in the clinical trial records can be significantly reduced by adopting Blockchain-enabled, time-stamped immutable records of all the trials, experiments, protocols and results.

Data Security

With the Internet of Things, Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and connected devices, security of systems is another major concern within the field of healthcare. But with every problem comes a solution, so you do have a solution with Blockchain. The technology helps you enjoy all the benefits of connected devices, while at the same time securing the data and keeping them private.

More and more electronic data is being scoured across the internet, and health data security must remain in the top position for all organizations. Verifying transactions by consensus of all the parties involved, and then validating them against an authoritative ledger of similar other events in the past is another major advantage of the technology.

Another advantage from the technology standpoint is that it is virtually impossible to change the data, and this is very, very good from the patient record standpoint. The fact is that you have multiple checkpoints, so the entire data filling and exchanging is done in ultimate secrecy, while patients have better control over them. They can even decide who has access to their records, and who can make changes to it.

Blockchain Answers for Healthcare Industry Challenges

There is no doubt that the blockchain revolution has made significant changes in the healthcare industry. Here are some ways in which it answers the challenges that the industry faced before the technology became so popular:

Fragmented Data

  • Computer networks aid in accurate patient data through decentralized storage
  • Data can be shared across networks and nodes
  • Decentralized source of internet

Timely Access to Patient Data

  • Distributed ledger system facilitates distributed, secure access to patient health data
  • Updates to patient’s shared data done in real time

System Interoperability

  • Decentralized Internet and computer networks across boundaries
  • High-level authenticity

Data Security

  • Digital transaction security ensured; this protects patient identity

Patient Generated Data

  • Holistic patient data collected through data from wearable IoT

Access and Data Inconsistency

  • Select healthcare companies enjoy consistent and rule-based method to access and analyze patient data through Smart Contracts.

Cost Effectiveness

  • System turns highly efficient through real-time processing and reduced transaction costs
  • No third-party applications, so no time-lag in accessing data

Conclusion

Blockchain is thus the decentralized ledger of transactions happening across peer networks. Through this technology, there is no need of a central certifying authority to conform the transactions including fund transfers, selling trades, managing vital information and so on. This is all done seamlessly with increased transparency and accurate tracking methods that leads to a great level of cost reduction.

As explained earlier, one of the industries that benefits greatly through Blockchain technology is healthcare because patient information is shared across multiple providers with absolutely no risk of security or privacy breaches. The technology allows for documenting the transactions in decentralized ledgers, bringing in transparency and saving on other crucial resources like time and cost.

Utilization of this technology in this manner will engage millions of individuals, health care entities, medical researchers, health care provides to share vast amounts of data released to every aspect of life with guaranteed privacy protection and security. This event could lead to precision medicine and advancement of medical research to pave the way for improved health and timely prevention of diseases.

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