Blockchain’s Impact on Global Health Management
While the ongoing pandemic has placed an enormous strain on global healthcare networks, the truth is, Covid-19 has only exposed the many cracks that were already present in the foundations of the traditional healthcare sector. The crisis has also exacerbated the prevalence of mental health issues, placing additional strain on healthcare systems. To my mind, a global crisis of this magnitude requires a concerted effort on a global stage to leverage breakthrough technological innovations that can help humanity weather this unprecedented economic and healthcare storm. Technology that actually preceded the pandemic – blockchain – is tailor-made to address some of the glaring inefficiencies within the healthcare sector. The catalogue of benefits associated with blockchain technology, pertaining to the healthcare sector specifically, continues to expand, with new dynamic applications emerging periodically with great potential to be genuine agents of change for the sector. More familiar applications of blockchain technology extend to the supply chain space, in terms of fraud mitigation and the expedition of delivery services. These strands of fraud prevention and process acceleration also relate to the healthcare space.
For example, blockchain technology could be leveraged to greatly reduce the prevalence of counterfeit drugs – a problem that has blighted the healthcare industry around the world. In fact, an estimated 10-30% of medicines in circulation in developing countries are deemed to be counterfeit, having either been altered or not what they purport to be. What’s nearly as bad as contaminated supplies is those that arrive too late or are appropriated en route. An immutable ledger can ensure that medicines or protective gear are sent to the designated purchaser, with no ambiguity around the required destination, negating the risk of double ordering of specific products. Put simply, an immutable ledger makes it clear who ordered what first. Upholding the highest standards in medical security can only be achieved through complete transparency from point of origin to end-user: no duplicates, no cooked books.
During these unprecedented times, we have seen technological innovations take hold within the healthcare space, such as the rise in popularity of telemedicine for example – a shift that will totally reimagine how healthcare is accessed and delivered moving forward. This, however, does not address the fundamental challenges relating to how the global healthcare system is organized. Healthcare is still very much centralized, with multiple stakeholders operating in silos. Billions have been spent in trying to streamline the communication between various centralized systems, and billions more will be spent as more centralized systems permeate the market. While the groundswell in momentum around telehealth is encouraging, the siloed approach that has generally defined independent healthcare networks, unfortunately, is impacting the delivery of telehealth services. There are many telehealth solutions on the market, but they tend to work in isolation. Healthcare requires a totally new, patient-centric approach. More specifically, it needs to be decentralized. This is where blockchain comes in. Allow me to illustrate a specific example how, by using blockchain, healthcare is decentralized through telemedicine, thereby simplifying matters for all stakeholders.
The importance of telemedicine to the future of healthcare has never been more pronounced. Having virtual consultation options redirects traffic away from medical facilities where they may be at more risk to Covid-19 exposure. Telemedicine also helps ease the burden of emergency departments through online triage. Patients share their data with credentialed physicians they have selected from a registry and blockchain can verify a care provider’s qualifications, rates, and ratings – all indelibly inscribed on the ledger. Medical records are only shared by consent and remain the exclusive property of the patient. Patient privacy is upheld throughout, in that everything is encrypted, and blockchain allows this transaction to be peer-to-peer.
Blockchain-powered telehealth platforms can facilitate instant payments, removing the need for unnecessary middlemen impeding the payments process. As it stands, practitioners are confronted with a litany of onerous and time consuming tasks, such as negotiating interminable schemes, nested intermediaries, provisions and policies, all the while, trying to diligently serve their patients. Given the increasing workload from a practitioner perspective, the payments process should be made as seamless as possible.
A full embrace of blockchain within telehealth offerings can also streamline patient-practitioner engagement more broadly, reducing the occurrence of frustrating delays by ensuring patients can easily access healthcare providers, irrespective of where they are in the world. Through blockchain-enabled telehealth, a lot of the prominent stresses facing patients and practitioners alike can be alleviated, helping medical professionals to work at full capacity, while also helping patients engage in the healthcare journey with a renewed sense of confidence and clarity.