The key concerns of healthcare management today are data processing and data security. Patients don’t have full ownership of their medical records, and are unable to control how their information is updated. There isn’t enough transparency to the process.
There are also significant concerns related to data security, especially in the areas of personalized medicine and the rise of wearables. Patients and medical staff need secure and straightforward ways to record data, send it over networks, and receive advice without security concerns. Blockchain technology can help solve these problems.
Introduced in 2008 as a means of recording cryptocurrency transactions, blockchain is a distributed cloud-based ledger that offers the ability to verify the origin of data and prevent breaches.
When a user wants to make a transaction, they issue a request signed with their private key. The network verifies its authenticity by using a public key. If the verification is successful, the transaction is broadcast to the network and included in a block. The network of “miners” solves the block to get a reward, and once the block is revealed, it is added to the blockchain, making it permanent. It’s impossible to introduce new information in a block unnoticed, because that would change the structure of the entire chain. This feature makes the system safe and transparent.
Since the information contained in a blockchain exists in every node of the network, it’s impossible to attack, as there is no central authority that holds power. These features can become very attractive for the purposes of healthcare software development.
Blockchain is perfectly adapted for record-keeping in the medical world. Its applications include sharing healthcare data, keeping electronic healthcare records, managing insurance, and performing administrative tasks.
We live in a time when a data analyst looking at heart rates recorded with a smartwatch can tell when a person is sleeping, jogging, or doing other activities. Patients can send data about their health to a blockchain network using an app. Doctors can then read it and send back instructions. This is reason enough to aim for maximum security and privacy of data sent to or through a mobile application.
The applicable blockchain model is based on the Ethereum protocol. It facilitates the communication between sensors and smart devices based on automated contracts on a blockchain. The goal of the system is to offer real-time support to patients and medical staff in a secure environment that is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant.
Electronic health records are, most of the time, distributed across different medical facilities. Blockchain can unify all the data and give patients access to their history. Having all data interconnected in the same place can lead to new insights about a patient’s health state.
The underlying problem, though, is the lack of standards in healthcare data management. An app that tries to solve this is MedBlock, which uses a distributed ledger for EMR access and medical information retrieval. Another solution is a data prevention system (DPS). This also uses the blockchain model to ensure that data is genuine and valid, and that the users’ privacy is maintained. The solution offers the ability to verify originality at any moment. No part of the information is stored in plain text.
In some cases, the patient’s location can be vital information. Location tracking using blockchain is a decentralized and open process. Security and privacy are major concerns, especially if the localization function is used for patients in a coma or other critical states. These systems are useful in both telemedicine and long-term care.
Blockchain can offer increased transparency and fake-information detection. Clinical trials should always be easy to verify for members and stakeholders. A smart contract is an excellent way to collect consent and keep the records of applied protocols and their results in an open and publicly verifiable environment. This is the first time that technology has allowed the general public to follow closely what happens during a clinical trial.
The medical insurance business is always looking for new ways to improve operations and provide credibility. MIStore is a blockchain-based system for managing the patient’s insurance claims. An advantage is the small amount of computational power required on the part of the hospital. Data is distributed in the cloud, and the privacy of records is ensured even in the case of an attack on some nodes. A mobile application can be developed on top of this system, to give patients full control over their spending data.
Secured by architecture, blockchain technology is a good fit when taking into account current computational capacities. It can’t be attacked through brute-force methods; it can only be broken by a 51% attack, wherein more than half of the network nodes get compromised. This means that the group controlling those nodes can prevent new transactions, or reverse completed ones.
Other valid concerns related to the use of blockchain is the cost of implementation, the enormous energy consumption involved, and the rising price of rewards for miners, since every transaction is paid with a crypto coin similar to Bitcoin or Ethereum.
These are examples of blockchain technology’s potential. The motivation behind this technology is that it’s user-centric and gives patients real-time secure access to their health state and insurance information. Until now, there hasn’t been enough research in this direction, but scientific journals are beginning to publish more papers dedicated to emerging protocols.
Stepan Shablinsky is a lead software engineer at MBicycle.