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#35 - Precision Medicine

Unchaining Healthcare

Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize healthcare. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

By transforming the usability, security and accuracy of patient-related data, blockchain technology could benefit a range of stakeholders.   


Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize healthcare and related services. By safely and efficiently maintaining growing lists of digital information, the blockchain’s decentralized public ledgers can boost health data security and interoperability, revenue cycle management and supply chain validation. This will bring secondary benefits to patients, healthcare providers, insurers and pharmaceuticals.

At its core, blockchain is a self-auditing, trustless, immutable database of peer-to-peer transactions built from linked transaction “blocks”. With no central controlling organization, this database is located in a network of personal computers called nodes. Gaining access to the system using cryptographic techniques, users are allowed to store, exchange and view information.

“Zero-knowledge encryption makes the patient the owner and controller of their own data.”

The blockchain is certainly not a cure-all for data management problems, but it is hard to think of many other industries that need improvements in efficiency and security like healthcare. Despite the widespread digitalization of healthcare records, the uncoordinated implementation of different systems and formats, even within the same organization, has made data sharing often a hugely complicated, unsecure and error-strewn process. In the U.S., for example, updating and verifying healthcare data is estimated to cost over $2 billion a year, while AI platform Protenus estimates that the security of 5.6 million U.S. patient records was breached last year alone.

“The main benefit of applying the blockchain to healthcare is the ability to create a single, traceable patient record available to every healthcare entity,” said Andy Park, CEO of Canadian blockchain solution provider Coral Health. “Real-time shared access to secure and validated health information will enable better patient care, allow widespread automation and drive down costs for companies and individuals.”

Development of Personalized Medicine

While the development and implementation of blockchain technology in the healthcare sphere is still in its early stages, the number of related startups and offerings is now rapidly proliferating.

With pilot programs set to launch in 2018, Coral Health is working to create a blockchain-based platform where patients can safely and easily view their fully updated healthcare records and send them to other stakeholders. For example, the company’s lab record app will allow patients to access and share their results with partner laboratories, reducing data transmission costs and driving the development of personalized medicine.

California-based startup, which has already released its first private beta, is working to create a blockchain-based platform that facilitates the sharing of biological data between patients, scientists and research sponsors. “By enabling deep learning computation on potentially millions of biomarkers in people’s bodies, this can lead to personal health insights and the development of predictive models,” explained co-founder and COO Sam de Brouwer. “People’s medical data then becomes a financial asset.”

Slovenian blockchain startup Iryo also hopes to disrupt medical data ownership by allowing patients to securely control their data. The company is building an open-source platform with zero-knowledge data repository (zero-knowledge encryption means that nobody but the user can access data). The system will be rolled out in Middle Eastern refugee camps in May. “Zero-knowledge encryption makes the patient the owner and de facto controller of their own data,” said Iryo CEO Vasja Bočko. “This means our system is highly resistant to cyber attack.”

Consumerization of Certain Elements

Blockchain technology providers still have to overcome many challenges, such as scalability and the consumerization of certain elements. Yet with interest from medical insurance companies also ramping up, offerings will continue to multiply. In the United States, five leading healthcare organizations, including insurers UnitedHealthcare and Humana, have just announced a pilot program that will apply blockchain technology to improve data quality and reduce administrative costs.

“If only one person has a telephone it’s essentially useless,” said Glen Ogden, general manager of Estonian blockchain pioneer Guardtime. “But as blockchain offerings for healthcare continue to roll out, so the financial benefits for their implementation will become increasingly compelling.”

About the Author

Daniel Allen is a writer and a photographer. His work has been featured in numerous publications, including CNN, BBC, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, National Geographic Traveller, Discovery Channel.

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