Blockchain in Healthcare: Main Use Cases and Limitations

Blockchain in healthcare allows medical institutions to streamline the management of electronic health records and drug supply chains. Other medical processes such as anti-counterfeiting, conducting clinical and biomedical research, remote patient monitoring, improving insurance procedures, and others can benefit from integrating blockchain technology.

However, according to a survey of 146 medical institutions in Europe, only 4% of them currently use blockchain, while 14% plan to implement it in their existing processes. However, most of the organizations surveyed had no plans to use blockchain.  

Perhaps adopting blockchain in healthcare presents too many challenges? Or maybe these organizations possess little or no knowledge of the technology’s capabilities for their current processes?

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into these questions along with some of the most common use cases for blockchain technology in healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry.

Reasons to Consider Blockchain in Healthcare

Today, healthcare organizations lack sufficient methods for exchanging health information. For example, in order to move a patient to a different hospital, the patient has to bring their previous medical records to the new institution on their own or have the same medical tests reperformed. 

Another issue is incomplete patient data stored in the databases of various hospitals. This is inconvenient and can lead to inappropriate patient treatment.

Blockchain easily fixes these issues by segmenting and protecting information, and exchanging medical data and services.

Let’s take a look at a few use cases of blockchain in healthcare to better understand the benefits that this technology delivers to the industry.

Blockchain in Healthcare: 5 Use Cases

Use Case 1: Medical Data Exchange

Blockchain streamlines the exchange of data between healthcare providers, researchers, and insurance companies. The technology allows patients to keep track of how their data is transferred and processed, ensuring an organization’s compatibility with GDPR regulations. 

Healthbank, Factom, Gem Health Network (GHN), HealthCombix, Patientory, and others are already using blockchain for electronic health records. 

The benefits of leveraging blockchain for medical data are:

    • The patient owns and controls access to their medical data. Patients can easily retrieve copies of their medical records or transfer them to another health care provider.
    • Immutability of patient records. Blockchain ensures that medical data cannot be changed by anyone, including doctors or the patient themselves.
    • Medical records are signed by the data source. This allows you to validate records and reject false records.
    • Reliability and availability of data. Since patient records are stored on a decentralized network, the data is more resistant to loss and hacking attacks.
  • Confidentiality. Electronic medical records are encrypted on the blockchain and can only be accessed using the patient’s private key. Even if an intruder enters the network, decrypting the data will be impossible or extremely difficult.

Use Case 2: Supply Chain Management and Anti-counterfeiting

The global market for counterfeit medicines is estimated at $200 billion. Blockchain solves this problem by ensuring transparency at every stage of production, supply, and sale of medicines.

Blockchain for supply chain management in healthcare brings together every stakeholder of the transaction procession on the blockchain. Thus, any changes or attempts to tamper with the recipe are immediately identified.

By recording pharmaceutical manufacturers, product serial numbers, and package numbers on the blockchain, every company, drug manufacturers, and consumer can verify the authenticity of the data. 

Use Case 3: Clinical Trials

In this case, blockchain technology can be leveraged to speed up research, access to data, and improve control over the results. 

With the help of the technology, healthcare institutions can accelerate:

  1. Conducting clinical trials. Blockchain makes it easier for patients to authorize their data for clinical research. Information about patient care, clinical trials, biomarkers, the pharmaceutical supply chain, and more, can be securely stored with the help of the technology. Researchers can more easily analyze the disparate data and use it to improve the efficiency of clinical and biomedical research.
  2. Monitoring research results. Blockchain can eliminate data falsification and minimize unwanted clinical trial results. The immutability property of blockchain confirms the integrity of all data collected for clinical trials.

Moreover, blockchain in healthcare research guarantees the confidentiality and privacy of data which attracts patients, healthcare providers, and researchers to share any necessary diet, lifestyle, genetic, health, and environmental data with each other.

Use Case 4: Health Insurance

Claims processing could be a promising blockchain application in healthcare. Insurers can reduce costs, and beneficiaries would be able to receive reimbursements faster when insured events occur (via the use of smart contracts).

Instant benefits of blockchain for health insurance are:

    • Real-time claims processing. Blockchain streamlines claims processing in real time, excluding intermediaries from the process.
    • Fraud detection. The immutability of data simplifies the audit process and greatly enhances the detection of fraudulent activity.
    • Confirmed data. The data required for decision-making is distributed among many participants – patients, medical organizations, and insurance companies. Blockchain allows you to combine this data and solve the issue of its confirmation.
  • Simplified access to patient data. All parties involved gain access to patient data from several different sources at once.
  • Confidentiality. Blockchain reduces the likelihood of an attacker gaining access to financial information.

Limitations for Blockchain in Healthcare

The existing restrictions on the use of blockchain in healthcare include issues of scalability, data transmission latency, interactions between different systems, data security, and confidentiality.

For example, due to the lack of standards for use, compatibility issues between different solutions can present challenges for storing medical data on the blockchain. Large volumes of medical data slow down the exchange rate and limit scalability.

Blockchain in healthcare is still at an early stage of implementation, and best practices have not yet fully formed. In addition, there is a lack of information regarding economic viability.  And the cost of solutions is often not clear to customers. 

The healthcare system participants themselves attribute this to the lack of their own competencies and user knowledge. In order for healthcare organizations to form a better understanding of how to implement blockchain in their workflows, it’s best to get a professional consultation. Experienced professionals will help you figure out what areas in your institution can be accelerated with blockchain, how much it will cost you, and what benefits you will gain. 

The healthcare industry is developing rapidly, and while this is exciting, it can also lead to insufficient and chaotic processes. Blockchain streamlines and protects these workflows by ensuring that your institution satisfies the highest industry standards.