Blockchain in healthcare: From theory to reality

This month, I’ve been looking at a very interesting topic that is receiving an increasing amount of attention within the IT landscape; Blockchain. Blockchain is a public ledger of transactions, which was originally founded to cater to Bitcoin transactions. Although Blockchain is much more well established within the financial services sector, it is gradually making its way into other industries such as healthcare. Previously theoretical use cases are now being acted upon by innovators in the market. This blog post will look at five examples of how it is being adopted within healthcare and life sciences:

  • EHR storage & security
    Blockchain is a security technology at its core and with the ever-present concern over the security of electronic health records, it is likely to cater to this challenge first as it enters healthcare. Factom, a provider of Blockchain technology, recently announced a partnership with HealthNautica, a medical records and services solutions provider. Their joint aim is to secure medical records and audit trails using the Blockchain. They will do this by cryptographically encoding private medical data and then a digital fingerprint is formed for time-stamping and verification purposes. This facilitates both the storage of the EHR and its security but what is also interesting is that organizations are also looking into how healthcare providers can send out encrypted personalized medical recommendations, which the user can access with their own, unique key.
  • DNA wallets
    An Israeli startup named DNA.Bits is planning to store genetic and medical data which is again secured via the blockchain and accessed using private keys and this will form a “DNA wallet”. This could allow healthcare providers to securely share – and possibly monetize – patient data, helping pharmaceutical companies to tailor drugs more efficiently. What’s striking about this is that the article was published over a year ago in June of 2014, which really highlights that this kind of development is becoming well established.
  • Bitcoin payments
    In a similar style to Factom and HealthNautica, BitHealth is also looking to store and secure medical records using the blockchain. This system also facilitates Bitcoin payments, giving patients additional options for how they pay their healthcare insurers. Although this relies on the success rate of Bitcoin in the market, insurers who offer this method will have a competitive advantage over their peers. With regards to health insurers, due to blockchain being established within the financial services sector, it is expected that lessons learned will cross over.
  • Anti-counterfeit drugs
    Block Verify is looking to use blockchain in the fight against counterfeit drugs. In a similar way to M-Pedigree technologies, it features panels on drug packages that can be peeled or scratched off to reveal a unique verification tag. This is then cross referenced with the blockchain to ensure that the pharmaceutical product is legitimate.
  • Protein folding
    Stanford University previously relied on expensive super computers to simulate protein folding as it happens incredibly fast. This method was obviously costly and had a single point of failure. Using the blockchain, they can instead use a decentralized network of over 170,000 computers to produce 40,000 teraflops of computing power. This example will grab the attention of other industries that utilize expensive supercomputers. This could even make its way into the analytical space by utilizing a broad base of data for predictive analytics.

Clearly these are all cutting-edge innovations, but as with the financial sector, they point the way for mainstream adoption. Have you heard any other rumblings of how Blockchain is being used in healthcare and life sciences? How else do you think this new technology could be applied to add value to customers? I’d love to hear what you think. Please comment below and if you’ve enjoyed this post, please share on social media.

  1. Factom, HealthNautica + Factom Announce Partnership, http://blog.factom.org/post/117173667784/healthnautica-factom-announce-partnership, 23rd Apr 2015
  2. City A.M., Blockchain breaks new ground with DNA wallet, http://www.cityam.com/1403865514/blockchain-breaks-new-ground-dna-wallet, 27 Jun 2014
  3. BitHealth, http://devpost.com/software/bithealth
  4. The Coin Front, Block Verify to fight medical counterfeiting problem, http://thecoinfront.com/block-verify-to-fight-medical-counterfeiting-problem/, 11th Mar 2015
  5. Daily Trading Profits, New Uses For Blockchain Technology, http://www.dailytradingprofits.com/1279/new-uses-for-blockchain-technology/, 6th October 2014

Jonathan Cordwell is a Senior Professional Research Analyst at CSC, specializing in Healthcare Strategy. Since joining CSC in 2008, Jonathan has worked in a variety of environments such as Project Management, Sales/Marketing Support and Communications. As a Research Analyst, Jonathan is focused on delivering market insights on the Healthcare and Life Sciences vertical. Jonathan holds a BA(Hons) in Business Management & Spanish from the University of Manchester.

Comments

  1. Blockchain and platforms that can leverage the technology will revolutionize health. Good piece.

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  2. Good stuff. This technology is evolving quickly and it would be nice to get updates on your perspective from time to time. Maybe next time you can comment on the use of Blockchain technology for automatic contract enforcement. This would be especially helpful given the huge rise in APIs and Microservices. Also, I’m wondering if you have any comments on the current limitations of Blockchain technology.

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    • jcordwell says:

      Thanks Jerry, much appreciated. I know JC spoke on smart contracts in the manufacturing industry so as Life Sciences shares a lot of similarities, there will be crossover potential. As for healthcare, smart contracts would probably be more suited to the payer space for establishing health insurance plans. There may be a possibility for providers to adopt it when they enroll with a hospital for example but I think use cases may be few and far between. As for limitations, I think the biggest one is the barrier of trust. There have been a lot of worries over storing medical data electronically but as the market matures, these are gradually decreasing. I think the healthcare industry will look at how financial services are treating blockchain and follow their example (all be it cautiously.) If large banks and financial services providers are willing to trust blockchain then it will bolster trust in other verticals.

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  3. Will it be cost effective for smaller organisations ? I mean can a infant organisatin can afford use of blockchain technology ?

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    • Jonathan Cordwell says:

      If we look at the Financial Services industry, organizations ranging in size from small startups to major corporations and government agencies are investing in Blockchain so it is affordable. Blockchain providers are also wanting to establish a footprint outside of Financial Services so will likely enter the market with competitive pricing models.

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  4. Thanks for the article, are you aware about any use cases or any attempts made by insurance providers/brokers to utilize blockchain technologies ?

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    • Given Blockchain’s roots within the Financial sector, there will be potential for a lot of crossover use cases. A couple of use cases that come to mind are billing and insurance claims systems based on Blockchain such as the one developed by Factom HealthNautica, which could be linked to Digital Health Wallets. Another possibility is the use of smart contracts whereby payment is made as soon as the service is completed. I think Healthcare Payers will be keeping an eye on what is achieved in the Financial Insurance space to see how they can leverage the lessons learned.

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  5. Nice stuff regarding Blockchain. Thanks for sharing this wonderful Information. Going to share it.

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  6. Tom Kysar says:

    Great piece!

    We recently published a piece on the status of the Blockchain Healthcare industry in 2016, covering the pitfalls and promises.

    Would love to get your feedback!

    https://tierion.com/blog/blockchain-healthcare-2016-report

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    • Great report, thanks for sharing. I think it will gradually gain more and more trust as innovators in the market start to explore its possibilities (in a similar way to cloud technologies.) One of the major sticking points will be how it fits into the regulatory landscape and the standards required to drive adoption.

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