Can Blockchain Revolutionize Medicine?

You have just returned back to Arusha, in northern Tanzania, after completing your day descent of Mount Kilimanjaro. You manage over the previous six days to hike 19,000 ft to the summit, but on your return to your hotel in Arusha you stumble and crack your head on the tarmac in front of you. A doctor is quickly by your side, though you know none of this in your unconscious state. You’re rushed to hospital and on examination, the doctor decides that surgery is necessary. But they have no copy of your medical history, and therefore no way to verify any possible surgery contraindications. The local doctor is able to contact your GP back home in London to request your medical records; however, there’s no way for your GP to know if the man on the phone is legitimate. In the end, your GP acquiesces to sending the files, not wishing to risk the health of his patient overseas.

What if there was a way of verifying this exchange, between the doctor on the ground in Tanzania, and the GP in London, a way of ensuring the transfer of the correct data quickly and securely? We can think of blockchain technology as distributed ledgers on which massive amounts of information can be stored. In this case, the blockchain acts as a cyber pipeline between the two doctors, through which the necessary data can be transferred. The blockchain also acts as the storage mechanism within which your medical record is securely kept. If we think for a moment where our own information is currently stored online, we realise that we have little agency over it at all. Right now our information resides with doctors, with hospitals, with insurance companies, and even with online forms. These entities may possess all of your medical information or even only parts of it. Devices like FitBit even possess some of our information.

Who owns patient data? How much of that data is yours and what can you do with it once you have it? The problem is that we don’t have full agency of our information. Fortunately, companies like YouBase are working with hospitals to start to give patients greater data agency over their own health information. An advantage of combining with blockchain compatible technologies like YouBase is that more effective communication across the value chain within medical networks might now be possible. For example, each medical centre and hospital might have different ways of storing and transferring patient data. Blockchain platforms such as MedicalChain, Medibloc, and Patientory seek to amalgamate these different storage systems to ensure interoperability. As the patient/user, you can use a token in order to share information about yourself to help doctors and surgeons understand your health history.

So if we go in for surgery, whether it be orthopedic, surgery for targeted fat reduction, or other illnesses, all of your relevant health information can be exchanged with the hospital through the transferral of a token. For example, prior to liposuction surgery, full disclosure of health history including any illness, prior surgery of any kind and complications from prior surgery is necessary, as well as any history with anesthesia.

The implementation of blockchain technology within the medical space can benefit its supply chains, too. The pharma industry has the highest standards for product safety, stability, and security. The pharma supply chain management, with blockchain, can be monitored securely and transparently – this can mitigate time delays and human error. Blockchain can also be used in this domain to monitor cost, labour, and to verify authenticity of products by tracking them to their origins, combating counterfeit product trafficking which costs $200 billion in losses to the market annually. Modum, for example, works in compliance with EU laws which require proof that medical products haven’t been exposed to certain conditions such as high or low temperatures which could damage or change them. Company iSolve, similarly, envisions an end to end drug supply chain solution through the implementation of blockchain tech. The use of blockchain would make the drug supply chain transparent for pharma companies who wish to see the distribution patterns of their medical products.

Casting our vision further into the future, we might see companies like EncryptGen and Nebula Genomics using blockchain platforms to enable individuals to share genomic data safely and securely. Companies like these predict that in future, opportunities around personal genome sequencing will create a data market worth billions of dollars.

The implementation of blockchain technology may have begun in the cryptocurrency market, but it is quickly spreading outwards, as its benefits are realised by an increasingly larger group of industries and individuals. It is more than likely that blockchain will have as great an impact on our lives, if not greater, than the internet.