Blockchain in healthcare

Blockchain’s technology is recognized as capable of transforming also healthcare systems. This can be achieved by granting fundamental changes, such as placing the patient at the center of the health ecosystem and increasing safety, privacy and interoperability of medical information. This technology could lead to a new model of health information exchange by allowing electronic medical records to be more efficient, its access not dependent on third party intervention, and safer.

This technology is based on the use of cryptographic tools to allow each member of a healthcare network to participate and interact (for example, store, exchange and view information), without having to know or gain the prior trust of the other members.

In this blockchain system, there is no central authority. The transaction records are stored and distributed among all network participants. Interactions with the blockchain are, in turn, known to all members and require verification by the network before they add new information. This allows for spontaneous collaboration between members of the network and the immutable record and audit of all interactions.

Not all problems require a solution based on the blockchain, but it is very effective when these conditions are met:

  • Several agents generate transactions that modify information in a shared repository.
  • Different parties need to trust that the registered transactions are valid.
  • Intermediary agents are inefficient or not reliable as judges of what is true.
  • Greater security is needed to guarantee the integrity of the system.

In health care, the potential applications of this technology are very diverse; some of them are in a purely conceptual stage of development while others are already in the implementation phase. The organizations considering the use blockchain technology will face two generic types of possible application:

  • Verify and authenticate the information. In this case, they could, for example, verify the patient’s digital identity, their genetic data or prescriptions history. This is a new context in which the ownership of the data resides in the patient who authorizes or cancels access to their information to health care providers.
  • The transfer of value. Here, institutions can use technology to generate and transfer value, either by gaining efficiency in the provision of care and administrative processes or by promoting healthy behaviors.

In somewhat more advanced phases of the application of this technology, it is possible to make use of some singular characteristics, such as the smart contracts that are automatically executed when certain conditions are met. This application allows you to customize conditions that determine the mode and the moment when value is exchanged, information is transferred or certain events triggered. Applications can be established to simplify administrative processes, such as prior authorizations access to assistance services, payment or claims processing.

For its final implementation, some defend the need to choose between open blockchain systems, or accessible by any provider, or restricted to those allowed to operate. This decision, which is defended in other sectors, such as the financial one, seems to go against the very nature of this technology, and it harms the one who is the true owner of the information, the patient, which, in our opinion is nonsense.


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