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Blockchain Technology: The Next Big Thing in Clinical Trials


Let’s face it: the current healthcare system is inherently messy, and we have to accept some level of disappointment at its inefficiency. While healthcare expenditures approaching 20% of GDP which is trillions of dollars, the industry is still struggling to provide a high standard of care to patients. Worse yet, $500+ billion of this expense are unnecessary.

Moreover, despite the incredible innovations within the healthcare field, non-digital healthcare intervention is something that has persisted over time. While scientists are spending billions of dollars and decades to generate the world’s first full genome sequence, billions of medical records are still stored on paper files. Even those who have taken the leap and finally stored these files on computer have barely even scraped the true potential of digital databases. Such inadequacy of the healthcare system causes inconvenience in accessing the data when needed and also results in data security breaches. 

But what if you can safely and privately access your entire medical history? You can view every medicine taken, every vital sign and symptom that has ever been recorded, information about every doctor’s visit, illness, and surgery performed, in complete anonymity. How helpful would that be, not only to patients but to the industry as a whole? This can be possible with the use of Blockchain, an innovative technology that not only stores the patent’s entire medical history but also allows selected healthcare professionals to access the data and treat issues no matter where the individual has been and who has treated them in the past.  The immense potential of this technology can end fragmentation in the healthcare system while cutting costs and improving quality.

A Brief Background on Blockchain

Keeping the technical jargon aside, blockchain is simply a distributed system for recording and storing transaction records. More specifically, blockchain is a shared, immutable record of peer-to-peer transactions stored in a digital ledger. It keeps track of exchanges and transactions in a database that can be shared across authorized users when needed. But these authorized users can’t delete or modify any record and no transaction can take place unless validated by all users.

The concept of blockchain made its public debut in 2008 when Satoshi Nakamoto, whose true identity is still unknown, released the whitepaper Bitcoin, a Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System that uses a “purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash” known as Bitcoin. This opened the door to a new world of possibilities and today Blockchain is one of the biggest ground-breaking technologies with the potential to impact every industry.  

What Statistics Have to Say About the Significance Of Blockchain in Healthcare? 

The scope of blockchain technology in healthcare is immense. According to a report from Zion Market Research, global blockchain development in healthcare, which was around $34.47 million in 2017, will witness a steep rise of $1415.59 million in the year 2024. Also, the CAGR is expected to grow up to 70.45% in between 2018-2024. In addition, 56 percent of the healthcare IT professionals are expecting their company to implement blockchain technology by the year 2020. These statistics look promising, but what key factors make blockchain so crucial for healthcare? Let’s have a look at those factors.

Blockchain Panacea for Healthcare Problems

With the fragmented healthcare system, the industry is drowning in data from medical records to billing, research, clinical trials and more. This not only makes challenging for healthcare to keep the data organized but it’s also hard to maintain privacy standards between systems. The potential for fraud and privacy breaches is much higher in today’s disjointed healthcare systems and the fragmented systems also make data research complicated. Blockchain technology disrupts the healthcare industry by helping to create a common database of health information to reduce administrative time for healthcare professionals while providing higher security and privacy. Though the potential uses of blockchain in healthcare are seemingly endless, here are some of the majorly disruptive applications that are revolutionizing the industry.

Data Security

With more and more devices being connected to healthcare portals, the industry is struggling to keep the data private and secure. As per Protenus' Breach Barometer report 2017 year-in-review report, there were 477 healthcare breaches affecting 5.6 million patient records. Blockchain's ability to keep an incorruptible, decentralized and transparent record of all patient data makes it a technology rife for security applications. In addition, blockchain conceals the identity of any individual with complex and secure codes to protect the sensitivity of medical data. 

Drug Traceability and Supply Chain Integrity 

Forged drugs take a staggering toll on global health. 10 percent of the world’s pharmaceuticals are counterfeit according to The World Health Organization. This puts around $75 billion of in the pockets of illegal drug manufacturers accountable for 100,000 deaths per year. This is where the blockchain record can be of great help as it can help authorities identify fraudulent drugs more quickly and make the supply chain more accountable.  It offers traceability of counterfeit drugs and minute details of every transaction of any pharmaceutical product. 

Medical Data Management

Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and one of the most common reasons for this problem is the inability of hospital systems to safely and efficiently share data with one another. Patents scatter their medical records across a myriad of organizations, moving from one health system silo to the next while losing access to critical past medical data. Adding to the complexity of the issue is that every hospital has its own way of managing their data. With crucial patient information being so expensive and cumbersome to share, it’s no wonder the flow of healthcare data is often stifled — leading its way to increased medical error and fatalities.

This is where Blockchain technology comes to the picture. Blockchain securely eases the patient records transfer process among health systems both nationally and across borders and lowers the transaction costs.

Medical Research 

Having secured and centralized storage for clinical trials and patient outcomes for new treatments can vastly enhance patient care and results. However, with all the diverse and disconnected systems in play in the current healthcare system, there is no way to process all those data for future treatment possibilities. With unchangeable time-stamped blockchain records, it is possible to reduce the switching of results, data snooping and unethical reporting in clinical trials and outcomes while minimizing both fraud and error.

Final Thoughts

While we have just begun to tap into the possibilities that blockchain can bring into the healthcare industry, many healthcare companies and tech innovators are pushing the boundary further. With the increasing adoption of this technology, having a world where a person can have access to all of his medical data from anywhere on the planet is no distant dream.  As privacy and integrity of data are finally becoming a priority in the healthcare industry, blockchain is sure to gain speed in the future.