Blockchain is an emerging technology that originated with the introduction of Bitcoin in 2008 and has since steadily filtered into various markets. A blockchain is a decentralized database that has specific rules about how data is entered, maintained and accessed. The data in a blockchain is stored in a series of discrete nodes, instead of being stored at a single location. “Blockchain allows stakeholders that don’t trust one another to share sensitive information in a secure and trustworthy network. This technology is particularly interesting because it allows to track, share and prove the authenticity of the information,” explained Anca Petre, co-founder of 23 Consulting.
Especially in an industry where gigantic masses of sensitive data is created, such technology has the potential to have enormous impact. According to Petre, there are three types of applications for blockchain in healthcare, “The most well-known is around asset transfer and cryptocurrencies. Although it doesn’t represent the majority of applications in healthcare,” she said. For her, the two main use cases are around data authentication and process automation. “By data authentication I mean securing any type of sensitive information that can lead to litigation such as prescriptions, clinical trials consent forms or medical records. Process automation is more about speeding up the payment or reimbursement processes with tools such as smart contracts.”
Transparent and secure processes
A smart contract is a computer program that is stored in a blockchain that automatically moves digital assets between accounts if the specified and encoded conditions in the program are met. It creates a guaranteed promise between different parties. “Because there is such a big lack of interoperability, I believe that being able to share data without boundaries can have a major impact on the way we approach treatment or diagnosis. We will move towards value-based medicine and data-lead decisions,” the expert explained some ways blockchain could transform the healthcare system. She also predicted that “Blockchain will improve the way information is shared across multiple stakeholders. It will lead to better health outcomes, more transparency and more secured processes.”
For her, the use of blockchain will lead to an important change in the healthcare paradigm: “Blockchain will place the patient at the center of the healthcare system. He will be controll his data and deciding who to share it with.” However, massive access to data requires setting strong and precise privacy rules. It is important to allow the patient to control his information and manage access to it. “I believe that the main risk is that the patient is put aside and other corporations take advantage of this.”
Blockchain holds big potential for overcoming issues of trust and other challenges of the healthcare system. Nevertheless should it only be considered as one tool among many others. “It all depends on the use case you are studying,” Petre said. “If it touches sensitive data or slow processes you might want to consider using blockchain. In this case, it can have a major impact. But always start from the problem and then try the best technologies to solve it, not the other way around.”
Anca Petre is co-founder and chief operating officer of 23 Consulting, a consultancy firm specialized in blockchain technology. She spends a lot of time educating the community around the precise use cases of blockchain. She also makes sure it is used in an efficient and patient-centered way. Petre has completed a double-degree in pharmacy and management. She is working on a thesis about the potential of blockchain technology in the pharmaceutical industry.
Report: Sascha Keutel
Read on and learn why for Dr Eberhard Scheuer, Chairman of the Health Information Traceability Foundation, “A central pillar of blockchain is trust”.