Blockchain in healthcare: where are we and what to expect next?
Blockchain for the supply chain tops other use cases in the pharmaceutical industry
80% of pharmaceutical companies developing a blockchain strategy positioned the supply chain use case as their main focus.
Blockchain technology has characteristics that are particularly interesting for tracing and tracking medical products:
- Decentralization: by connecting the different stakeholders in the supply chain, the technology insures the integrity and authenticity of the information. The more people participate, the more secure the system can be.
- Immutability: the information stored on a blockchain cannot be tampered with, creating trust in the system and its participants.
- Transparency: All intermediaries can know at any given time the origin of the product they have thus contributing to securing the supply chain and fighting counterfeiting.
Case study: the MediLedger Project by Chronicled
The MediLedger Project brings together leading pharmaceutical companies and distributors to evaluate the interest of using blockchain technology to secure the supply chain.
“Our intention is to create a permissioned blockchain network for the pharmaceutical industry based on open standards and specifications. Nodes will be distributed – operated by industry participants and technology providers who serve the industry. This is possible due to solving the data privacy – business rules can be enforced, but no business intelligence is shared on the blockchain.” – MediLedger
In their 2017 report, the MediLedger Project presents a first overview of their solution:
This solution allows stakeholder to share information in a secure and compliant environment. Indeed, the MediLedger Project was designed to explore the use of blockchain for the pharmaceutical supply chain in regard to the upcoming Drug Supply Chain Safety Act (DSCSA). Moreover, the solution is based on well-known standards and guidelines, thus building a GS1-compliant system.
One of the most interesting aspects of the MediLedger Project is the way they insure data privacy. Indeed, in the pharmaceutical industry, the different entities taking part in the supply chain do not wish to share business intelligence and sensitive information about their partners. In order, to keep this data secure while ensuring the integrity of the supply chain, MediLedger combines blockchain and zero knowledge proofs. This technology allows to prove that an information is true without revealing more details about the underlying transaction such as the identities of the parties.
To learn more about the MediLedger Project, download their 2017 report here.
Blockchain technology brings various advantages to the pharmaceutical supply chain:
- A complete visibility on the product’s circuit;
- Security and data privacy for supply chain stakeholders;
- An effective tool to fight the $200 billion-dollar counterfeiting market;
- A complementary solution to existing authentication and traceability tools;
- A tool to meet regulatory requirements such as the DSCSA.
Interoperable EHR systems will soon become reality
Using blockchain technology to securely manage medical records can benefit both the patient and the medical community.
- Patients can easily define access permissions to their information and have control over the use of their private data. As such, it is important to notice that blockchain technology is not designed to store medical records, but rather to offer visibility on the interactions between healthcare providers and a patient’s information.
- Healthcare professionals can have facilitated access to medical information and therefore improve the quality of care through more personalized and precise medicine. Retrieving a patient’s history and communicating with other healthcare stakeholders can become easier, allowing medical experts to focus on their core mission: support their patients.
“Estonia is perhaps the best example of a large-scale adoption of blockchain technology in the healthcare field. 1.5 million Estonian benefit from fully digitalized medical records backed by a nation-wide health information system. From lab results, to prescriptions or medical appointments, Estonian people can have access to all their medical history and share it among the medical community. The system also allows any individual to see who accessed the data and therefore control permissions.” – Anca Petre (full article here)
However, Estonia is not the only country using blockchain technology to secure medical records.
Along these countries are also a vast number of startups providing platforms to collect, store, analyze and share medical information. However, despite numerous efforts, their action is limited due to characteristics of the healthcare system such as the lack of digitalization or the reluctance of healthcare providers to share sensitive information. Estonia is certainly a model for other countries but the work to build a similar global system might take another 5 to 10 years.
What’s taking so long?
- Creating a network and finding an incentive: the biggest the network is, the more secure is the blockchain. As such, it is essential to convince as many stakeholders as possible to join the solution. Moreover, the main goal of blockchain in healthcare is to avoid silos of information. Again, this requires connecting doctors, pharmacists, research centers, etc. and providing them with an incentive to participate in the network.
- The gap between the real world and the digital world: still now, many medical records are paper-based. Therefore, the main challenges in not to implement blockchain technology, it is to digitalize the system in the first place.
- The lack of education around concrete use cases that can be developed within an organization: many companies do not fully understand the benefits and the return on investment they can achieve with this technology. Use cases analyzed in the media are the most obvious ones but as one size does not fit all, each company has to identify its own pain points and evaluate the need to use blockchain technology.
- No standards, no guidelines, no regulation (or too much of it). It is well known that the healthcare industry is extremely regulated and that organizations follow strict guidelines and standards in their processes. Especially in the pharmaceutical industry, if a company decides to do things differently, it often has to prove that the new way is as good as the old way, if not better. This, of course, demands time and increases the cost of a project.
2018 might not be the year of large scale industrialization of blockchain solutions in healthcare just yet. Of course, it all depends on the use case and the country, as some have taken a considerable advance over the past years. Nevertheless, it is not the year to give up either as the biggest advances will be made in the next couple of months. By working in consortiums, many industry leaders are bringing together private companies, regulatory agencies, final consumers and governments to set the framework for future implementations.
One of the main challenges of the healthcare industry will be to go beyond the main use cases presented in this article to explore more precise and unique projects.
The first applications to reach implementation in the majority of countries are not the ones vastly explored in the media. Especially inside organizations, smaller scale and industry-specific use cases will emerge.
These can only be explored if healthcare stakeholders collaborate with blockchain experts to identify opportunities and build concrete implementation projects. It is indeed all about bringing together a decentralized group of people!