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Remember the beginning of 2018? Back then, cryptocurrencies were breaking historic records, and one bitcoin was worth about $18,000. Yes, it was a glorious time, blockchain was the number one topic of discussion. In fact, even top government officials were talking about it, and everyone wanted to implement blockchain in one way or another. But then cryptocurrencies took a nosedive, and with them, the blockchain hype subsided. At the same time, the technology itself was not forgotten, as everyone understood very well that its potential is huge and isn’t limited to cryptocurrencies. So, three years have passed. How much does bitcoin cost these days?
Do you know what this means? The blockchain technology is about to get hot again. It's about to become one of the most talked-about topics again. It might even supplant the endless stream of pandemic news. At least for a while. At least we'd like to believe so.
Except that no matter how much you ignore the elephant in the room, even if it's been there for a year and everyone is used to it, it's still not going anywhere. And we're not talking about a virus right now. We are sitting on lockdown not because the government is afraid we will get sick, but to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing. The year 2020 has clearly shown the world how much the medical industry needs to modernize and digitalize to meet new challenges. And blockchain can be a great help in that endeavor. According to a study by IDC Health Insights, one in five organizations that do business in healthcare will soon be using blockchain technology. We're talking about both blockchain-based software and custom solutions that integrate off-the-shelf blockchain solutions. So let's take a look at the companies that have already done this and been successful at it.
Estonia was the first country to implement blockchain on a national scale. The eHealth Foundation Estonia has been operating since 2005.
During that time:
- 99% of prescriptions have been issued digitally
- 95% of medical records have been digitized
- 500,000 inquiries are sent by doctors each year
- 100% of bills were issued digitally
In 2016, the eHealth Foundation teamed up with Guardtime, a company that specializes in data security. Guardtime helped the foundation implement KSI (Keyless Signature Infrastructure), a blockchain technology that provides large-scale data authentication without reliance on a centralized trusted authority.
The project now has more than 1 million patient records and data. KSI's infrastructure ensures that medical data is highly secure, safe, and intact. Whenever medical information is changed, the KSI blockchain automatically creates an updated record, preventing any uncontrolled manipulation of the data, whether it is deliberately changed or deleted.
Additional performance and cost analysis of KSI has shown that network response times are nearly 50 percent lower and storage costs are 20 percent lower compared to alternatives.
UK-based FarmaTrust is developing a fast, scalable, and secure blockchain solution that automates all phases of pharmaceutical supply chain tracking.
The company's Zoi blockchain system helps minimize the costs and resources required to fully track drugs. The platform integrates with existing enterprise software solutions and helps reduce the likelihood of disrupting existing business processes, such as delay of product shipments.
The solution is based on the public Ethereum blockchain. The company has also successfully conducted PoC launches on private versions of Ethereum: Tomochain and Quorum. The platform uses a decentralized registry to store data on tracking the origin of medical drugs, smart contracts to automate the execution of supplies of legal products, and artificial intelligence to predict the need for drugs.
To test the solution at the government level, FarmaTrust announced a long-term partnership with the Mongolian government about a year ago. The company chose Mongolia for its trials because 80 percent of medicines in the local market come from abroad and it is crucial to track their origins to avoid substandard and counterfeit drugs entering the country's pharmacies and hospitals. FarmaTrust has given the country access to a blockchain platform so that the government can create an immutable registry to track and protect pharmaceutical supply chain data. As of the start of 2021, the company continues to actively develop its healthcare projects and implement solutions in collaboration with numerous partners, including the U.K. government.
Blockchain can facilitate the exchange of data between different parties in the healthcare industry, such as healthcare providers, researchers and insurance companies. Regulation in some countries prohibits the processing of patients' sensitive personal data unless patients explicitly consent. For example, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) contains such requirements. Blockchain could allow patients to control how their data is transmitted, processed and used.
MedRec, a joint blockchain project between MIT Media Lab and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, allows patients to control their own medical data. Patients can determine for themselves who can access such information.
The benefits of this system are hard to overestimate:
Patient-controlled medical records
The patient owns and controls access to his or her own medical records. This removes all barriers to patients obtaining copies of their medical records or transferring them to another healthcare provider.
Unmodifiable patient records
Blockchain can ensure that medical data cannot be altered by anyone, including doctors and patients themselves.
Medical records are signed by the source of the data. This allows the validity of records to be verified and false records to be rejected.
Reliability and availability of data
Because patient records are stored on a decentralized network, data is more resistant to loss and hacker attacks.
Electronic health records are encrypted in a blockchain and can only be accessed using the patient's private key. Even if intruders were to breach the network, it would be impossible or at least very difficult to decrypt the data.
LumenLab, a division of Metlife, a large insurance company based in Singapore, has launched a pilot blockchain platform, Insurechain, to automate insurance payments. The Vitana app, powered by Insurechain's blockchain platform, is designed to provide financial protection for pregnant women at risk of gestational diabetes.
Thanks to the app's underlying blockchain technology, it only takes a few minutes to issue an insurance policy, and insurance payments are made automatically, without patient involvement. To accept the offer, patients need to contact a participating clinic and install the app on their phone. Through this app, the patient applies for an insurance policy. The client downloads the app and gives it consent to receive data from third-party sources. Their account is then deployed to the blockchain as a smart contract and automatically recorded in the Distributed Ledger (DL). Once the customer has requested a payment, the app triggers the underwriting rules and uses the blockchain to automatically trigger the payment. For example, if a user is diagnosed with diabetes, an automatic underwriting payment of $500 will occur. If certain complications arise, insurance payouts can be as high as $2,000.
The weight of the development of the Vitana app is evidenced by the fact that it was created with the active participation of major corporations such as SwissRe, Cognizant, and Vault Dragon, who helped LumenLab with the design, development and implementation of the project.
Big players have long recognized the potential of blockchain, and they are actively working to implement it across all industries. According to preliminary data from Deloitte's Financial Services Industry Outlook 2021, 27% of organizations surveyed expect a "slight increase in blockchain costs," while 14% plan to significantly increase development costs. The survey itself was conducted between July and August 2020. That is, even before the current cryptocurrency boom occurred, which means blockchain technology is about to cause a stir again among businesses of all types and sizes and healthcare is no exception. From the creation and exchange of immutable medical records, to increased transparency in the pharmaceutical supply chain, blockchain networks have several promising uses in the healthcare sector. While there are some technical, logistical and regulatory challenges, the integration of this technology will play an important role in the future of medical data storage and transfer. Why not get ahead of the curve and adopt the technology right now, outrunning the competition. Go for it!