The healthcare industry is on the brink of revolution, as some blockchain technology proponents claim. Many envision a bright future where medical records are easily shared among doctors and institutions; personal data is controlled by patients – not harvested by tech companies; services are accessible and affordable.
Such visions could be easily realised if Web3, a blockchain-based internet platform, established itself globally. However, not all medical professionals are excited about using blockchain in healthcare because they see many blindspots. German blockchain expert Lukas S. Vogel, MD, expressed his opinion that, despite the possibility of blockchain technology improving the future of healthcare systems, it will still take years to reach a successful and scaling solution.
So what can we expect?
Blockchain Solutions and Their Appeal to Healthcare Companies
Presently, various healthcare companies, such as Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Patientory, Nebula Genomics, SAP, and IBM, utilise enterprise blockchain solutions in healthcare for different tasks, including verifying credentials, tracking organs and transplants, sharing medical records, and following pharmaceutical supply chains. After all, interoperability is vital in medicine, pharma and research.
Some industry experts predict that there will be a proliferation of blockchain-based applications within the next five years. There is lobbying that doctors and patients be given sovereign IDs so they can control their private data. Sadly, evidence shows that currently, hospitals and corporations own medical records and can sell data. Patients still need permission to access their own data, explained Chief Medical Officer Jose Morey of a medical technology firm based in Carolina.
Thus, it would be a herculean task to give patients control over their medical records. In addition to technical issues, financial interests need to be tackled. With no incentive for corporations to collaborate and transfer ownership, it would be challenging to provide solutions to today’s healthcare problems. It would require changing systems, new management techniques, and companies to work together willingly, experts claim.
Pros and Drawbacks of Blockchain in the Healthcare Industry
Despite its potential to revolutionise the healthcare industry, there are also disadvantages to implementing blockchain technologies into healthcare systems.
Healthcare innovators predict that cryptos could be used to pay for services or to reward or provide incentives. An example would be a patient who could obtain a new NFT from a hospital if they exercised three times a week. Enthusiasts of Web3 desire to provide patients with incentives to help them make healthy choices.
However, there is a risk that bad actors would join the system and manipulate it. Talking about risks, have in mind that this goes beyond the healthcare industry. For example, trading is one of the areas that pose high risks. So, if you decide to trade cryptos, then choose only reliable platforms, such as Bitcoin Profit and Kraken. In addition, remember that there are still no clear rules regarding NFTs and cryptos.
Blockchain solutions can help with credentialing. Physicians partner with different parties, and these firms must validate that the physician is licensed. The process of verifying a physician takes months, which can be sped up through the use of blockchain.
One possible method of storing a doctor’s credentials is through the use of NFTs in digital wallets. However, it would take a technically savvy doctor to process that.
Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)
Though NFTs are utilised mainly across gaming and art objects, medical records, permanent records of one’s identity, and other healthcare data can be registered through them. Then, users can opt to share their patient data or sell it to a research company.
However, again, it takes technical skills to acquire and store NFTs, and many users might find it too technical to follow the required steps.
It is nearly impossible to hack blockchains, so many find such solutions ideal for sensitive data, such as medical records, patient data, financial details, and insurance information.
That said, users can be tricked into giving these secret phrases and passwords, especially if hackers play with one’s emotional responses, which are common reactions in health and emergency situations.
Distributed Autonomous Organisations (DAOs)
DAOs are emerging in popularity. Medical field innovators also show interest in providing funds or raising money via DAOs. For example, healthcare innovators may raise funds for patients who have rare diseases for research funding. Raising funds for such ventures is significant because usually, investors do not show interest in illnesses that are less common as these do not provide substantial revenues.
Yet, this is still experimental and does not guarantee positive health outcomes.
While blockchain solutions can support healthcare services, there are some environmental concerns. Environmentalists are perturbed about the amount of energy that computers need to secure and verify data on two of the largest blockchains, Bitcoin and Ethereum.
The good news is that Bitcoin miners are shifting to the use of renewable energy. Ethereum is about to use proof of stake that will decrease the usage of electricity by more than 90%. Other blockchains are already moving to greener solutions, which in the end, is vital for better health.
There is an excellent possibility that blockchain solutions will influence and improve healthcare services, data collection, medical record retention, and research. However, there is a great need for this technology to be polished and adopted globally in order to overcome its drawbacks.
One thing is for sure, though: the future of healthcare and blockchain is exciting!