The Future of Blockchain in Healthcare

October 4, 2022

Blockchain is a peer-to-peer decentralized distributed ledger technology that makes the records of any digital asset transparent and unchangeable and works without involving any third-party intermediary[1]. It is a revolutionary technology that is gaining popularity due to its role in cryptocurrency systems such as Bitcoin and Litecoin.

Due to its innovative features that has become one of the most powerful technologies of the 21st century blockchain technology is shaping the future. Almost all industries are now being disrupted by blockchain technology including the healthcare domain.

According to a study titled “The Use of Blockchain Technology in the Health Care Sector: Systematic Review” by Associate Professor Dr. Khang Wen Goh from the Faculty of Data Science and Information Technology at INTI International University and eight other international researchers, blockchain technology has been found to be beneficial in real-life healthcare environments.

If implemented properly, Dr. Goh believes blockchain features like decentralised technology, enhanced security and distributed ledgers would have a greater impact on the global health care sector.

This study’s primary goals are to review the extant literature on the use of blockchain technology in the health care industry and examine the characteristics shared by previous research that has utilised blockchain technology.

“The results from the systematic review show that the majority of the research regarding blockchain technology in healthcare environments was focused on the management of electronic medical records (EMRs),” shared Dr. Goh.

He further explained that apart from EMRs, blockchain technology is helpful in the areas of biomedical research and education, remote patient monitoring, pharmaceutical supply chains, health insurance claims, health data analytics, and other areas.

The healthcare system has also shown that blockchain technology could be used due to its patient-centric approach, its ability to connect different systems, and its ability to make electronic health records more accurate.

For example, EMRs can easily accessed by the patient using a blockchain-based information management system if it includes a patient’s full medical history from different hospitals. This improves treatment outcomes by preventing the separation of medical data from different hospitals.

“The features of blockchain such as decentralised technology, enhanced security, distributed ledgers and digital transaction provides a wide range of applications and uses in the health care industry,” said Dr. Goh as he explained attributes that would help the current healthcare industry provide high-quality patient care and health facilities.

Because both technology and the healthcare systems are evolving rapidly, it is important to make sure that healthcare data is appropriately stored with the highest level of security possible to prevent data breaches and threats.

According to the study, the current healthcare system including electronic health records and hospital information widely used across the world have disadvantages such as lack of sufficient security measures that can lead to other issues such as cyberattacks, data validity and data sharing.

Therefore, Dr. Goh and his team emphasised in the research that blockchain technology applications or implementation in the healthcare sector are to enhance data integrity, access control, data versioning, and non-repudiation of patient health records or other health information in healthcare settings.

“If the healthcare sector is able to improve the performance, security, and increase transparency of sharing medical data, it has the potential to reduce the cost of healthcare as well as allow industry players to gain insight and enhance medical record or data analysis in the future,” he said.

He added, “Leveraging blockchain with other latest technologies will benefit the people and the industry in both the short term and long term.”

This is supported by data from the International Data Corporation (IDC), which indicates that by 2025, 55% of all healthcare applications will use blockchain for commercial purposes, making the streamlined business process one of the advantages of blockchain for healthcare institutions.

The use of a blockchain-based medical information management system is seen to improve treatment outcomes.

The safety element of blockchain technology, however, cannot be adequately analysed in this systematic review due to the limitations of prior research articles, in which only positive features were highlighted and possible bias was present. As a result, the expectation of blockchain technology in the health sector could be overstated and influenced by the existing trend.

The systematic review study was performed on 22 selected papers by evaluating their trustworthiness and relevance. The search period started with research papers from January 2008 to September 2019 because the first published articles about blockchain technology were introduced in 2008.

Blockchain Policy Series stated that most published research on the use of blockchain in the health sector presents theoretical frameworks, architectures, or models with few technical details. There is seldom a prototype or pilot implementation to learn from. Deployment of blockchain technology in health at a national scale is rare[2].

“We hope to see more applications and implementations of blockchain technology by real healthcare providers so that we can experience it practically and more research can be done for greater understanding and better evaluation,” Dr. Goh concluded.