IBM Explains How Blockchain Technology can Influence Healthcare and Medical Use Cases?


Ever since the blockchain technology emerged, it was speculated to have many more use cases than just serving as the place where crypto transactions were possible. After Ethereum emerged, developers started focusing more on the blockchain itself. Soon enough, it was discovered that this technology has the potential to reach nearly every industry in the modern world, and even completely revolutionize some of them.

While there is a lot to talk about the blockchain technology's potential impact on the world as a whole, we will only focus on one aspect this time, and that is healthcare.

At first, it might appear strange that this type of technology can impact healthcare in any significant way. However, there are many important use cases that were already uncovered in this area, with more of them likely coming in the following years. To explain this, we will review 3 big use cases that blockchain has in modern healthcare.

1) Drug Traceability

Drugs are a big problem in healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Drug counterfeiting is especially troublesome in developing countries, where it can include anywhere from 10% to 30% of drugs sold. It is estimated that the counterfeit drug market exceeds $200 billion per year, with around $75 billion going over the internet.

Reports claim that over 60 different Pfizer medicines are counterfeited around the world and that most of these drugs come from China and India.

A big part of this problem is the fact that the drugs can be very different from what the original product is supposed to be. They can vary in terms of quality or quantity, while many of them do not contain ingredients that they should have. Clearly, this poses a great threat to patients that depend on such medication, as they will not properly treat the disease they are meant to be used for.

Not only that, but there is a great danger of experiencing side effects due to additional ingredients, which can even be deadly in extreme cases.

However, if blockchain technology can be adopted, then drug traceability will become much easier and safe. Each piece of data that is added to the block is timestamped and immune to change, manipulation, or deletion. Tracking products will become easy through simple QR codes, and everyone will be able to identify fake drugs at any time.

Since blockchain can be private or public, it would make sense to only allow trustworthy entities to actually register products on top of the chain. That way, consumers will see that the drug was authorized by a trustworthy firm, and they will know that it is safe to be used. The same pharmaceutical firms will decide who can act as a miner, and those will likely include entities from the supply chain itself.

These problems exist today due to the fact that there is no easy and reliable system that can be used for tracking products. With blockchain, these issues can be solved, and each step in the product's journey from the manufacturer to the consumer will be recorded and easily traceable.

In addition, if there is a problem when a certain batch of medication, the blockchain will make retrieving all affected products not only possible but easy as well.

2) Clinical Trials

The second big use case includes clinical trials, which the pharmaceutical industry uses for testing tolerance end effectiveness of certain products on different patients. These tests tend to take several years, and the future of the drug depends on the outcomes.

It is well known that billions upon billions of dollars are invested in different drugs, projects, and attempts to cure diseases. Because of that, ending up a years-long test with inconclusive results is an extremely big waste of time and money. Since the results are extremely important, it is also not uncommon for fraud to occur. However, detecting it and estimating its frequency is next to impossible at the moment.

Furthermore, there are excessive amounts of data that get produced during clinical trials. Things such as safety reports, quality reports, blood tests, statistics, surveys and more — for each individual involved — results in unimaginable amounts of information. However, as always with so much information, mistakes can happen, and the final results get affected as a result. Data can get modified, hidden, or lost, and the entire effort ends up being compromised as a result.

Not to mention the possibility of manipulating the Informed Consent Forms that patients included in the trial need to sign. These forms can be incomplete, or even completely fabricated, in some cases. Clearly, there are a lot of potential problems in this part of the pharmaceutical industry, and while they may seem unsolvable at first, blockchain technology can easily deal with all of them.

Blockchain technology can offer proof-of-existence for any and all documents, reports, statistics, and alike. The information stored on the blockchain cannot be manipulated, as stated earlier, which is why validated reports will always remain unchanged. Furthermore, the majority of nodes that participate will have to confirm that the reports are truly valid before they can be recorded.

With the possibility of modifying data out of the way, the end results will always represent the real state of things, and the entire scientific community will be able to benefit from said results.

3) Managing The Patients' Data

Managing patient data usually comes with tho big problems. The first one is the fact that each patient is unique, and diseases cannot be treated in a single, common way. This is why we have doctors, instead of just instructions regarding the treatment that should be applied.

Each patient might have different side effects of a disease, the drugs might affect them differently, or maybe not work at all. Because of that, records of each patient need to be as precise and well-managed as possible. Due to the fact that the healthcare industry has been becoming more patient-centered recently, there are big advancements in this regard, although there is still room for improvement.

The second big problem is how to effectively share this information among the medical community, without risking its safety. There were already different attempts to combat this issue, but none of them has proven practical or secure enough to actually be adopted. To this day, doctors tend to consult with others via social networks, which might result in data leaks that might endanger patients' privacy.

This same problem is also slowing down scientific advances. The problem is even more apparent due to the fact that records are kept in different locations, instead of a common database. This is especially impactful when it comes to rare diseases or minorities. Finally, this can also result in issues regarding data ownership, as patients cannot claim full ownership of their medical records, as they would be able to modify them and manipulate results themselves. This might impact potential treatments, and would leave records incomplete. As a result, the patient would suffer the most.

Blockchain's capabilities to store and easily share data were already covered, previously, and they can be applied in this situation as well. Healthcare providers can collect data from patients, store it in an existing database, and then a hash is created so that the data can be redirected to the blockchain, together with patient's public ID.

Data access can be controlled via smart contracts, and the patient can have full ownership of their information since there is no more danger of manipulating the data. They can then chose to share their full medical records with their doctors, or only some parts of their medical records during interactions with pharmaceuticals, for example.

In addition, thanks to IoT devices, patients' records can be adjusted and monitored, with important data being stored on the blockchain as well. The possibilities are endless when it comes to combining technologies, but in order for this to work, it all comes back to the blockchain.

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