Throughout 2020 and as early as 2021, we were inundated with health headlines – endless analysis of the pandemic and the response, gaudy statistics with insights into what could have been done better – yet little airtime was granted to the information infrastructure, on backing the health services so many of us have relied on. And the reality is that for all the advances and innovations that have been seen across the healthcare sector, the data systems and information technology that support them have largely not kept pace.
Contemporary health information systems are exceptionally fragmented. While growing amounts of personal health data come from a variety of sources – from doctors to pharmacies, laboratories to hospitals, even our cellphones and smart devices – in almost all cases the information remains isolated in data silos – separate and inaccessible from out of bounds and proprietary systems. Not only is this inefficient, but it also limits a healthcare provider’s ability to work with the most complete real-time patient information available to achieve optimal health outcomes.
Blockchain technology – and a single global blockchain in particular – offers a solution – and healthcare organizations are increasingly realizing its transformative potential.
A single global blockchain can serve as the foundation for a universal global electronic health record, providing a secure digital environment in which patient information can be stored and managed in a verifiable manner and which is publicly available in real time (if from the patient) by anyone in the chain of healthcare providers authorized). Any new information could be incorporated to provide an up-to-date, comprehensive picture of patient health that would enable doctors, pharmacies, and other providers to better guide patients about health care. By using the blockchain, we can iterate and innovate beyond the boundaries of existing systems by using the unique features. The same protection that is applied to prevent double spending on digital currency could be used to prevent double filling of pharmaceutical prescriptions, while blockchain private keys could be implemented to authenticate identity and validate insurance coverage .
Regardless of whether patient data is stored directly in the blockchain (with data protection) or outside the chain (and managed via access rights in the chain), a blockchain-based system of electronic patient records would not only give healthcare providers a holistic view of patient information and better health outcomes; it would rebalance the information paradigm and bring the “personal” back into “personal health”.
In a year when medical jargon and population health have become an integral part of our daily (socially distant) discourse, it is perhaps not surprising that the year has also brought with it for many of us an increased desire for more control over our personal Health care.
A blockchain-based record-keeping system would allow patients to maintain full control over their data and decide when and who to give permission to access their information. This could be permission from a healthcare provider in a doctor-patient environment, or it could be for commercial purposes – authorizing access to your data by a pharmaceutical company doing clinical research in exchange for receiving micropayments in digital currency.
Controlling the patient would also make switching between healthcare providers far easier than it is now, while also ensuring that all information provided is complete and demonstrably correct – a process that could be applied to a variety of scenarios.
One company leading this vision is Texas-based EHRData, an initiative of the founders of PDX, Inc. – a US medical data company with 40 years of experience working with pharmacy software and technology solutions. Using the Bitcoin SV blockchain, EHR Data is developing the world’s first electronic health record that enables individuals to securely own, control, and earn money with their personal medical information while providing healthcare providers and researchers with better real-time access to data. The platform can support a variety of use cases to drive better health outcomes, from opioid drugs to Covid-19 tracking, while ushering in a new era of personal power for patients.
Consider the impact of a blockchain-based record-keeping system on program administration as governments and health professionals around the world launch the largest public health campaign in human history with the introduction of Covid-19 vaccination. A universal electronic health record would ensure that no matter where each vaccine was given, the correct type and dosage was given at the correct intervals. This individual, unchangeable vaccination record could then be used for digital “passports” with which the admissibility for public places or means of transport is checked.
The potential of blockchain technology for the healthcare sector also goes beyond a pure patient-provider paradigm. Blockchain solutions can ensure honesty and enable transparency in the development of pharmaceutical products. This is an often lengthy process that is subject to stringent checks for data integrity or “hygiene”. If data is improperly captured, or worse, deliberately fabricated or obfuscated, entire studies, together with potentially billions of dollars and years, can be completely invalidated. Blockchain technology enables easy and verifiable tracking of data sets created by clinical researchers. This benefits government agencies charged with licensing drugs and leads to better health outcomes for patients.
Advancing these goals is Veridat, A new US company that is also using the Bitcoin SV blockchain as the basis for a system that provides integrity and data hygiene to the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical clinical research is an area that has long been exposed to questions of trust and transparency. The results of studies and tests generate huge amounts of data that can have a significant impact on the prospects of the companies who develop them and the patients who develop them will be given the resulting drugs. With so much at stake, ensuring the integrity, validity and trustworthiness of this data is critical to ensuring that the best health outcomes are achieved in the most efficient way. By using the blockchain to timestamp clinical research data, Veridat can bring verifiability and trust to the sector. Veridat’s platform is already being tested with JuvaTech – a behavioral neuroscience company that helps researchers test therapeutic compounds – and with a major pharmaceutical company.
Fundamental to realizing this vision for better health is a blockchain with a strong foundation to support big data capacity. Rather than having multiple digital ledgers for the industry, better healthcare outcomes require a single global blockchain that is massively scalable and capable of processing large amounts of data efficiently to act as the sole source of information – and ensure that everyone Throughout the health care chain this can have access to the same data at the same time.
It’s a big vision for healthcare and one that can only be achieved with a blockchain driving an equally big vision.
Photo: A-Image, Getty Images