Blockchain, which can be thought of as a “decentralized digital ledger,” has become the hottest topic in the world of finance since it was introduced in 2008. Blockchain technology is often associated with cryptocurrency and refers to a system that generates and stores data. In this case, it is essentially a digital ledger that contains information on its users’ financial transactions.
This distributed network comprises multiple computers or nodes, which can communicate and coordinate with one another. Each node has a copy of the ledger, which acts as a record of all the transactions that have taken place on the network. While users can keep track of their transactions through a digital wallet, blockchain technology keeps track of multiple users’ data and verifies their legitimacy.
Because blockchain is decentralized, traceable, and immutable, they show potential applications in industries beyond finance, such as the healthcare industry. The most common use of blockchain technology today is to record financial transactions, but the technology is also being applied to other industries such as healthcare, where it could have a number of applications.
It might seem like a burgeoning idea, but a country like Estonia, with a population of roughly 1.3 million people, started it in 2012. Now, their healthcare billing, 95% of their healthcare data, and 99% of prescription information is accessed digitally and maintained on a blockchain.
Aside from Estonia, individual healthcare companies from various countries like the United States, England, and Russia, have dived into the possibilities that blockchain technology can offer. These examples showcase how blockchain technology can make the healthcare system efficient and accessible.
How Does Blockchain Work?
This distributed database is made up of blocks of data, each of which is linked to the previous block. These blocks form a chain that is shared across all computers on the network. Each block contains a timestamp that records when it was added to the chain and a hash code that links it to the previous block. The hash code is like a digital fingerprint that can be used to confirm that the information in the block has not been altered since it was added.
Blockchain technology has the potential to change how the health care industry works in a number of ways, and it has been identified by experts as one of the biggest opportunities in the field over the next decade. One of the best ways to apply blockchain technology to the healthcare industry is through its ability to make payments quick and easy. Other than this, there are three more ways blockchain technology can positively change the healthcare industry.
List of Ways Blockchain is Changing the Healthcare Industry
1. Streamlining Patient Care
In cryptocurrency, a decentralized blockchain means that the digital ledger’s information is stored on a network of computers called “nodes.” Anyone can have access to the network, and once accessed, a copy of the blockchain is made and stored on the user’s computer.
In healthcare, this allows a patient to easily access their medical records without having to fill up multiple forms whenever they visit different hospitals or consult with a new doctor. It also allows doctors to have immediate access to their patient’s information without having to rely on faulty computer systems or paper documentation.
Other than its ability to make medical records accessible, the blockchain can store patient information even when hospitals close down. Unlike traditional databases, which are owned by a single organization, blockchain technology is distributed and decentralized. This is because the blockchain is not attached to one entity, which in this case is the hospital.
Unlike traditional databases, which are owned by a single organization, blockchain technology is distributed and decentralized. This makes it possible for many different organizations to share information on the blockchain simultaneously without having to coordinate with one another. With this, a patient can easily visit more than one hospital while still having easy access to their information, and it simplifies the process of getting a second opinion.
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2. Showing Patient and Medicine History
A blockchain’s traceability makes it easy for healthcare professionals to keep track of patient records while eliminating the risk of miscommunication. It also helps prevent patients from lying to their doctors because their medical records are transparent.
Aside from making patient records transparent, it can illustrate a medicinal drug’s travel history and other related information. As soon as the medicine is made available on the market, a block will immediately contain the name of its supplier, where it has been, and keep storing future information until it reaches the patient. This ensures that the drug comes from a legitimate supplier and eliminates worries that it has been tampered with.
3. Billing and Claims Management
Blockchain technology could be used to streamline billing processes, allowing physicians to submit claims electronically rather than through paper forms, and making it easier for insurance companies to verify the accuracy of claims.
In the future, blockchain technology could potentially replace many of the processes currently used by insurance companies, including claims processing and claims verification. The development of smart contracts, or automated contracts that execute tasks when certain conditions are met, may also play a role in this process.
Many insurers are exploring the use of blockchain technology for claims management. The basic idea is that patients would be able to receive a digital file with their claim information that would not need to be transferred through the insurer’s computer system. This file could be stored on a distributed network, eliminating the chance of data loss or corruption. A patient could then share this file with his or her doctor or hospital.
In recent years, a number of high-profile cases of healthcare fraud have shown how easy it is for criminals to exploit the inefficiencies in the healthcare system. Blockchain technology could help to prevent fraud by creating a secure, transparent record of every transaction that takes place on the network.
4. Securing Patient Information
We all know that healthcare is one of the most important things for each and every person. Therefore, any kind of security breach can cause huge damage to the patient’s life. This is why blockchain technology is changing the way healthcare is being handled.
Much of the healthcare industry still relies on outdated software that is often unsecured. For even older hospitals, some rely on a completely offline system that uses paper filing for its documentation process. Because of this, it’s possible that a patients’ private information can be stolen, destroyed, or falsified. Blockchain technology is a perfect solution to this problem because it is decentralized and immutable.
It is easy to assume that a blockchain’s transparency means less security, but that is not true. Users often use “public addresses” or “public keys” so other users can transact with them, and the same technology can be applied in healthcare.
Providing a public key and coupling it with a private key that only doctors and hospitals have knowledge of, narrows down the number of people who have access to medical records. Not only that, but it also eliminates access to other sensitive information from those who might get into the network. This information can easily include credit card and bank account information, among other things.
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In addition, a block has a unique identifier called “hash,” which they use to become part of the chain. To do so, the previous block’s hash is referenced in the new block. This system allows the blockchain to make traceable transactions and heightens its security because changing any information in the block also changes its hash.
One might still be apprehensive and assume someone can still painstakingly change all the hashes within the blockchain. But because a blockchain is decentralized, copies of the blockchain are distributed to anyone who has access to the network. Through this, blockchain technology can check if only one copy of the blockchain has been tampered with and easily reject it. These security measures ensure that patients’ private information cannot be hacked or falsified.
Blockchain technology has made its presence felt in many fields. And now, the healthcare sector has also started adopting it. Using blockchain technology for the healthcare industry will require a learning curve, but its benefits outweigh the disadvantages. And just like any new technology that can be found in the market, continuous usage and research will allow the industry to shape it to suit its needs.
Experts have estimated that it would cost several hundred dollars to set up and maintain a blockchain network for a single company or institution. Although this cost might seem high at first, it could decrease over time as the network becomes more established and the number of users grows.
So, these are 4 ways the blockchain is changing the healthcare industry. With all the potential applications of blockchain technology in the healthcare industry, we can expect to see innovations in the near future. The biggest challenge will be finding ways to implement these innovations to improve the way the patients receive their treatment and make the medical bills more affordable.