The healthcare industry has always been a contentious subject in the U.S. Skyrocketing hospital costs, inefficient practices and constant data breaches prevent the industry from achieving its true potential as a beacon of innovation. With trillions of confusing data points to connect and protect, it’s no wonder that doctors, hospital administrators, nurses and insurance companies struggle to make advances.
According to Forbes, the U.S. is poised to spend 20% of its GDP on healthcare in the near future, a jarring statistic that's sounding alarms industrywide and spurring a drive for greater efficiency. With its ability to deflate the current spending bubble, protect patient data and improve the overall healthcare experience, blockchain might be the solution.
The ledger technology, implemented to streamline data-gathering processes and create trust, is already used to do everything from securely encrypt patient data to manage the outbreak of harmful diseases.
Even governments are employing blockchain in their healthcare systems, and the frontrunner might surprise you. No, it's not Canada, Singapore or even the United Arab Emirates. The answer: Estonia. (If you already knew that, please apply to compete on Jeopardy!) A country the size of Tennessee with the population of Maine, Estonia began using blockchain technology in 2012 to secure healthcare data and process transactions. These days, all of the country's healthcare billing is handled on a blockchain, 95% of health information is ledger-based and 99% of all prescription information in digital.
Here are several examples of how blockchain is being applied to the healthcare industry.
Cybersecurity, Data Integrity and Record Keeping
The most popular use of blockchain in healthcare right now is to keep data private and secure from thieves. The old methods of storing, tracking and securing data are easily accessible to hackers through a simple phishing email or other invasive means. Between 2009 and 2017, there were 2,181 healthcare data breaches that exposed more than 176 million patient records. The perpetrators stole credit card and banking information as well as health and genomic testing records.
There are three main reasons why blockchain can help to better manage patient data. First, it is a decentralized public ledger, which means the ledger logs all records in real-time and information is unanimously approved by other members of the blockchain (nodes). As a result, only verified true information will be uploaded. Security is inherent in the decentralization process by which incorruptible blocks are created. Once information is approved by the nodes, it becomes a block in the chain of information (hence the name blockchain) that no party can corrupt or erase.
Second, all information on an individual is made public to the blockchain. At the same time, nobody truly knows the identity of the individual behind that information due to a secure 20-digit code that is associated with each person. The combination of public information and private codes creates trust while helping to ensure that vital information is passed along without exposing the identities behind the alphanumeric codes.
Third, blockchain is distributed. Instead of sharing one copy of patient data (which causes confusion and inefficiencies), doctors, healthcare providers and patients can all have access to the individual blockchain that houses the most recent verified patient information. As long as everyone else consents, each party has the ability to add information to the blockchain. This helps healthcare professionals treat patients more efficiently and gather pertinent information more quickly than ever before.
Read about four companies that are helping the healthcare industry update its security, manage its data and keep contemporary records.
Industry: Big Data, Cybersecurity, Software
Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.
What they do: BurstIQ’s platform helps healthcare companies safely and securely manage massive amounts of patient data. Its blockchain technology enables the safekeeping, sale, sharing or license of data while maintaining strict compliance with HIPAA rules.
Blockchain application: The company uses blockchain to improve the way medical data is shared and used.
Real-life impact: Because BurstIQ's platform includes complete and up-to-date information about patients' health and healthcare activity, it could help to root out abuse of opioids or other prescription drugs.
Industry: IT, Enterprise Software
Location: Austin, Texas
What they do: Factom creates products that help the healthcare industry securely store digital records on the company’s blockchain platform that's accessible only by hospitals and healthcare administrators. Physical papers can be equipped with special Factom security chips that hold information about a patient and stored as private data that is accessible only by authorized people.
Blockchain application: Factom employs blockchain technology to securely store digital health records.
Real-life impact: In June of 2018, Factom got a grant of nearly $200,000 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to beta-test a platform aimed at integrating secure data from Border Patrol cameras and sensors in order to better understand the impacts of blockchain in "a realistic field environment."
Industry: Electronic Health Record, Medical
What they do: Medicalchain’s blockchain maintains the integrity of health records while establishing a single point of truth. Doctors, hospitals and laboratories can all request patient information that has a record of origin and protects the patient's identity from outside sources.
Blockchain application: Medicalchain's blockchain-based platform maintains a record of origin and protects patient identity.
Real-life impact: In May of 2018, Medicalchain announced the release of MyClinic.com. A telemedicine platform, MyClinic enables patients to consult with their doctors via video and pay for those consultations with "MedTokens."
Industry: Cybersecurity, Blockchain
Location: Irvine, Calif.
What they do: Guardtime is helping healthcare companies and governments implement blockchain into their cybersecurity methods. The company was vital in helping implement blockchain in Estonia's healthcare systems, and it recently signed a deal with a private healthcare provider in the United Arab Emirates to bring blockchain to its data privacy systems.
Blockchain application: Guardtime employs blockchain for cybersecurity applications, including healthcare.
Real-life impact: Guardtime recently teamed with Verizon Enterprise Solutions to deploy several platform services based on Guardtime’s Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI) Blockchain.
Shared Databases Create Streamlined Health Plans
Blockchain enables the efficient sharing of patient data across the broad spectrum of industry actors. Via a secure ledger, doctors, hospitals, pharmacists, psychiatrists and any other credentialed medical professionals can view patient information in real-time.
Miscommunication among medical professionals already costs the healthcare industry more than $11 billion a year because providers must contact one another directly for permission to acquire patient information — a process that consumes precious time and resources. Having the patient’s complete medical history in one ecosystem allows healthcare professionals to diagnose more quickly, efficiently treat patients and create personalized plans based on an individual’s unique medical history.
Check out four companies that use blockchain to create shared databases and personalized health plans.
Coral Health Research & Discovery
Industry: Healthcare, IT
Location: Vancouver, Canada
What they do: Coral Health uses blockchain to accelerate the care process, automate administrative processes and improve health outcomes. By inserting patient information into distributed ledger technology, the company connects doctors, scientists, lab technicians and public health authorities quicker than ever. Coral Health also implements smart contracts between patients and healthcare professionals to ensure data and treatments are accurate.
Blockchain application: Coral's blockchain technology accelerates care, automates administrative processes and employs smart contracts between patients and doctors.
Real-life impact: According to Coral's chief strategy officer Jeremy Mullin, the company is looking into the possibility of using a blockchain and the Smart on FHIR protocol "to let patients track their own health files."
Industry: AI, Blockchain, Enterprise Software, Personal Health
Location: Watertown, Mass.
What they do: SimplyVital Health is making its decentralized technology available to the healthcare industry. It’s Nexus Health platform is an open source database that allows healthcare providers, on a patient’s blockchain, to access pertinent information. Open access to important medical information helps healthcare professionals coordinate medical efforts more quickly than traditional methods.
Blockchain application: SimplyVital uses blockchain to create an open source database so healthcare providers can access patient information and coordinate care.
Real-life impact: SimplyVital recently partnered with genemics and precision medicine company Shivom to form a Global Healthcare Blockchain Alliance that employs blockchain security to protect DNA sequencing data.
Industry: Blockchain, Medicine
What they do: Robomed combines AI and blockchain to offer patients a single point of care. The company deploys chatbots, wearable diagnostic tools and telemedicine sessions to gather patient information and share it with the patient’s medical team. Robomeds Panacea platform engages patients into smart contracts that incentivize and lead them down the path to better health.
Blockchain application: Robomed uses blockchain to securely gather patient information and share it with a patient's healthcare providers.
Real-life impact: The Taipei Medical University Hospital recently implemented blockchain technology, including Robomed's network, to more securely store and share medical records.
Industry: Blockchain, Cybersecurity, Healthcare, IT
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
What they do: Patientory’s end-to-end encryption ensures that patient data is shared safely and efficiently. The company’s platform enables patients, healthcare providers and clinicians to access, store and transfer all important information via blockchain. Patientory helps the healthcare industry to move more quickly by housing all patient information under one roof.
Blockchain application: Patientory's blockchain platform enables the secure storage and transfer of important medical information.
Real-life impact: Patientory recently hosted its first North American Blockchain in Healthcare Summit that gathered hundreds of healthcare professionals to discuss and learn about blockchain-based healthcare applications.
Supply Chain Management and Drug Traceability
Can blockchain act as a more transparent backbone for medical supply chain management (SCM)? How can we trust that the medicine we take to keep us healthy comes from the right supplier? How do we know it hasn’t been tampered with? The current version of supply chain, the link between the lab and the marketplace, needs a revision. Complex pharmaceutical supply chains are inefficient and reduce collaboration between vital parties in any given chain. Blockchain’s decentralized public ledger can help to build trust and efficiency in a process that is usually mired in suspicion.
Blockchain has serious implications for supply chain management, and its decentralization virtually guarantees full transparency in the shipping process. Once a ledger for a drug is created, it will mark the point of origin (ie. a laboratory). The ledger will then continue to record data every step of the way, including who has handled it and where it has been, until it reaches the consumer. The process can even monitor labor costs and waste emissions. This can be useful for pharmaceutical companies looking to cut down on inefficiencies in the SCM process, law enforcement trying to stop illegal drug trafficking and consumers looking to find verified quality products. Blockchain’s ability to maintain clear, transparent and incorruptible data makes it a prime candidate to transform the SCM sector as we know it.
Read about four companies that are leading the way in implementing blockchain into medical supply chain management.
Industry: Blockchain, Supply Chain Management
Location: San Francisco
What they do: Chronicled builds blockchain networks that demonstrate chain-of-custody. The networks help pharma companies make sure their medicines arrive efficiently, and they enable law enforcement to review any suspicious activity — like drug trafficking. In 2017, Chronicled created the Mediledger Project, a ledger system dedicated to the safety, privacy and efficiency of medical supply chains.
Blockchain application: Chronicle'd blockchain network is used to ensure the safe arrival and detailed review of drug shipments.
Real-life impact: According to the company, results from Chronicled's recent MediLedger Project prove that its blockchain-based system "is capable of acting as the interoperable system for the pharmaceutical supply chain" and "can meet the data privacy requirements of the pharmaceutical industry itself."
Industry: Blockchain, Pharmaceuticals, Supply Chain
What they do: Blockpharma offers a solution to drug traceability and counterfeiting. By scanning the supply chain and verifying all points of shipment, the company’s app lets patients know if they are taking falsified medicines With the help of a blockchain-based SCM system, Blockpharma weeds out the 15% of all medicines in the world that are fake.
Blockchain application: Through its app, the company's blockchain-based system can help prevent patients from taking counterfeit medicines.
Industry: Saas, Blockchain
Location: Mountain View, Calif.
What they do: Tierion’s blockchain audits documents, records and medicines to keep a clear history of possession. The company uses timestamps and credentials to maintain proof of ownership throughout a medical supply chain.
Blockchain application: The company uses blockchain to maintain a clear possession history within medical supply chains.
Real-life impact: Tierion recently proposed a "multi-network coin" that could make Bitcoin more versatile and applicable.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Industry: Government Agency, Healthcare, Security
What they do: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into blockchain to monitor diseases in a supply chain-like manner. The U.S. Government agency says blockchain’s timestamps, peer-to-peer health reporting and data processing capabilities can help report disease outbreak in real-time. By studying the trail of reported outbreaks, scientists can find the origin of a disease and patterns that help suppress disease. The CDC might also employ blockchain to track the opioid epidemic.
Blockchain application: The CDC uses blockchain to monitor diseases and report outbreaks in real time.
Real-life impact: IBM is working with the CDC to develop a blockchain-based surveillance system so public health agencies can more effectively gather data about patients and prescriptions.
Breakthroughs in Genomics
Ever since the days of genomics pioneers Rosalind Franklin and Alfred Sturtevant, people have been obsessed with harnessing genomic information to help improve the future of human health. The basic structures that make up who we are as individuals, genes have fascinated and baffled scientists throughout modern history. Not until 2003 did scientists and medical doctors truly understood the enormity of genomics.
The Human Genome Project was a joint collaboration of scientists from all over the world whose goal was to better understand the basic structures that give us life. Spanning 13 years, the project gave researchers a deep understanding of our roughly 20,500 unique genes that are encoded with science-altering data about everything from hair color to diseases we could possibly contract.
In 2001, it cost about $1 billion to process a human genome. It currently costs about $1000, and the price is dropping further thanks to advancements in science. Today, companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com are using take-home DNA tests to help give users clues into their DNA structures and ancestral pasts. How could blockchain be added to the mix to shoot the field of genetics and genomics into the medical stratosphere?
Blockchain helps to safely house billions of genetic data points, and has even become a marketplace for people to sell their encrypted genetic information in order to create a wider database. Blockchain access to a wider amount of verifiable information enables geneticists to understand the human body faster than ever before.
Here are three companies that are helping to further our understanding of the most basic building blocks of human life.
Industry: Biotechnology, Genetics
What they do: Nebula Genomics is using distributed ledger technology to eliminate unnecessary spending and middlemen in the genetic studying process. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies spend billions of dollars each year acquiring genetic data from third parties. Nebula Genomics is helping to build a giant genetic database by eliminating expensive middlemen and incentivizing users to safely sell their encrypted genetic data.
Blockchain application: The company uses blockchain to streamline the study of genetics and lower costs.
Industry: Blockchain, Data-Sharing
Location: Coral Springs, Fla.
What they do: The EncrypGen Gene-Chain is a blockchain-backed platform that facilitates the searching, sharing, storage, buying and selling of genetic information. The company protects its users' privacy by allowing only other members to purchase the genetic information using safe, traceable DNA tokens. Member companies can use the genetic information to build upon their genetic knowledge and advance the industry.
Blockchain application: The company's blockchain platform makes it easier to search for, share, store and buy genetic information.
Real-life impact: EncrypGen plans to expand its user profile to include self-reported medical and behavioral data. According to company co-founder and CEO Dr. David Koepsell, it's also working on integrating a blockchain payment and auditing platform as well as forming partnerships with testing companies, analytics software developers and others.
Industry: AI, Blockchain, Medical, Software
Location: Palo Alto, Calif.
What they do: Doc.ai uses machine intelligence, like AI, to decentralize medicine on the blockchain. Users can opt into the company’s platform to share their medical and genomic data with a community of scientists that use the data for predictive modeling. doc.ai saves no patient data. Once information is uploaded, encrypted on a blockchain and used in a trial, the data is wiped out in order to ensure security and privacy.
Blockchain application: The company's employs machine intelligence (like AI) to decentralize medical data on the blockchain.
Real-life impact: The company recently partnered with health insurer Anthem to study the use of artificial intelligence in predicting the occurrence of allergic reactions.