Did you know that US based healthcare organizations spent about USD 93 Billion over the last five years in just data sharing costs? Healthcare data can be complex – in part due to the non-linear nature of diagnosis and treatment, and also due to differing healthcare standards across regions in the world. Additionally, data privacy and other related laws can make healthcare information difficult to access and share. So much so that in many countries, including India, a patient may not have complete access to his/her medical record!
Considering that the next paradigm shift in healthcare is expected to come from the adoption of digital technologies – whether for patient experience or improved efficiency of hospital tasks – it is important to address current challenges around data sharing and access, lest they become hurdles to progress. In that context, block chain could be a savior for the industry.
Block chain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Each block contains, typically, a link to a previous block, a timestamp and transaction data. Transactions have to be approved by all users of the block chain to be stored and modifying an older block of data is impossible. Only updation of future records is permissible making the system secure (relatively speaking) and therefore reliable. This also means, an entire block chain can serve as a secure ledger that records transactions, negating the need for multiple disparate trails of information.
I believe Indian healthcare has most to gain from the adoption of blockchain technology. For starters, blockchain allows all types of data to be integrated into the chain. This means one can add not just doctor prescriptions and treatment records but also nutrition information, fitness data, and recordings from medical devices (such as for blood pressure and diabetes patients) by patients themselves. Over time the presence of such longitudinal patient data means care givers can better interpret disease symptoms and prescribe effective treatment that is customized to work for the patient. Currently, doctors rely on data from treating different patients to prescribe medication. The chances of success for such medication are about 50%. In many cases, doctors wait for feedback from patients to change the medication. With availability of longitudinal patient data, doctors would know in advance what treatments are more likely to suit a patient in line with his/her health history.
If effected over large scale, block chain could help significantly lower healthcare costs in India. In addition, it can give multiple parties selective access to patient records ensuring data is not compromised. A survey report by IBM outlines the following healthcare areas benefiting from block chain: clinical trial records, patient health records, regulatory compliance, medical device data integration, treatment records, billing and claims, asset management (for hospital assets such as beds/ equipment available), and contract management (for hospitals).
So how far are we in block chain adoption?
Public domain data indicates that healthcare organizations in India are yet to consider block chain adoption. Some of the considerations that could be impacting this decision could include:
- Limited digitization of healthcare data in India
- Relative slow pace of evolution of regulatory standards in India – as a nation, we don’t have a policy on block chain
- Volatility in bitcoins, the primary currency on a block chain platform, means it is difficult for the government to allow adoption
- Limited awareness of block chains.
I will be speaking at the World Block Chain Summit in Bengaluru this week, where I will discuss the opportunities and the challenges in adopting Blockchain for healthcare. Do register for the event, which will have speakers across industries sharing their experiences and perspectives on Bloackchain.
Traditionally, healthcare has been a laggard when it comes to embracing new technologies. However, the interest and exploration of block chain among other industries – finance and pharmaceuticals – may fuel block chain adoption in the healthcare industry in the coming years.