Blockchain's Affect on the Healthcare Sector

Blog / Blockchain's Affect on the Healthcare Sector

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    Sheraz Sarwar
    Sheraz SarwarNovember 8, 2021

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    Blockchain as a system of recording information is, theoretically, unhackable. Because every time a transaction occurs a record is distributed across the entire network, you need to rewrite every block simultaneously. Across the entire network.

    While theoretically possible, the time and cost involved would make almost any hack attempt pointless.

    Security aside, working in this decentralised way has clear benefits. Firstly, all records are individually encrypted making them more secure than a network with a set of passwords that can be hacked or stolen.

    Any changes have to be unanimously agreed upon, which reduces errors and flags inconsistencies (like attempted hacks). By extension transactions are immutable and time stamped making them impossible to change and an accurate record kept.

    Every participant in the chain also has an identical copy of the ledger for total transparency.

    Blockchain technology is also programmable. This allows anyone wanting to create a blockchain network to tailor it to their needs.

    Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) to go by blockchain’s less exciting name, is a decentralised database managed by multiple participants. 

    Traditional databases are usually managed by a single person or small group or admins. With other users having access to a greater or lesser extent. 

    This leaves the network open to abuse as entry can be gained via multiple avenues. Data can be tampered with or extracted without anyone immediately knowing or being able to do anything about it.

    Blockchain’s need for consensus stops that from happening. In healthcare, having the ability to recognise if the data has been tampered with, or accessed without authorisation would be extremely useful.

    Blockchain and Healthcare

    The Benefits of Blockchain in Healthcare

    Healthcare data breaches are on the rise with out of date policies and inadequate security blamed for the worst of the attacks. 

    Healthcare hacks impact millions of people, exposing their most private information to the world. While much of the data is inconsequential, some of it can be used to extort money out of patients. 

    Especially those with conditions or substance misuse issues that they may prefer to keep between them and their doctor.

    With state-sponsored hacking a grim reality, extortion or coercion of high ranking officials by obtaining medical records is no longer the stuff of fiction.

    A near unhackable decentralised network that would alert the network of attempted breaches could stop that from happening.

    Equally, with healthcare workers under more pressure than ever, human errors will naturally increase. This will undermine patient welfare and potentially impact on health outcomes, to the point some patients may die.

    At a more basic level, most healthcare systems are drowning in data. It’s hard to avoid because patients only ever accrue more of it. Whether it’s a repeat prescription, a flu vaccine or major surgery.

    Maintaining data consistency is very difficult to achieve within a single health care provider, let alone a region or country. 

    DLT helps to to minimise user errors, and help the medical institutes become more organised. 

    The result is more secure, more efficient medical databases. Patients could also form part of the network. The system would also be safe enough that patients could have their own login and they could have control over how their data is handled.

    It would also allow patients to upload information about an illness or symptoms of an illness. Unified data systems will allow healthcare providers to identify patterns which could suggest a new disease or something like a local flu outbreak.

    The Benefits of Blockchain to Communities

    A medical blockchain network takes as much consensus to deploy as it does to operate. It takes a traditionally hierarchical approach to data management and democratises it.

    This is an uncomfortable position to be in for healthcare practitioners and even network security experts. These are individuals who are comfortable being the ones with the knowledge and the authority to back it up.

    Distributed Ledger Technology distributes the authority amongst a group whether that’s a group of people or group of entities. Like a network of hospitals. 

    For the wider public handling data in a democratic, decentralised manner also has its benefits.

    Greater Privacy

    A DLT based medical database could mean that patients will need to authorise any access to their medical files. They would also need to approve any change as well.

    Arguably this could create bottlenecks in progressing treatment. Especially if the patient doesn’t understand the request or is mistrustful of anyone accessing their data.

    However, patients should have the right to decide how their medical information is being used. And providing the right information is provided they are in a position to give their consent.

    Informed consent is a legal requirement in many countries before someone receives treatment.  So it stands to reason that they should give it when someone wants to view their confidential data. 

    Also there’s no ignoring the fact that the individual has the right to refuse treatment and so, by extension they have the right to refuse their medical records being viewed.

    Regardless, the blockchain structure means records within the database remain secure. Patients can also feel more confident that their data is being handled responsibly.

    Combating Stigma

    Many health issues, substance misuse and dependency issues carry considerable social stigma. Moving data between healthcare professionals can result in individuals learning facts about a patient that aren’t relevant to their care.

    By creating a medical database using blockchain technology, patients can specify what information is shared with which professional.

    Also this system would allow only the medical practitioner to access that information, rather than it being transmitted via email or stored on a shared drive.

    This would ensure that an individual’s personal information stayed private.

    Blockchain and Healthcare

    The Risks

    Blockchain isn’t perfect and while it’s theoretically unhackable, there are risks. The main being a database built on a simple majority. So if 51% of users agreed with a change, that change would take effect.

    This could mean that if a hacking network took control of 51% of a DLT medical database, they could more or less do what they wanted.

    The important thing to note here is that (a) a bespoke DLT network could have rules in place to stop that from happening. And (b) it would take such an incredible amount of time and energy to take over that much of the network, they would almost certainly be caught.

    Notably the bigger the network, the more blocks that 51% will be, making a national decentralised database a virtual fortress to breach.

    Launch your next Project

    Whether you want to build a blockchain database or healthcare app to transform the modern medical experience, we can help.

    At Vertrical we partner with ambitious health tech companies to help them scale and create the next generation in medical technology. Learn more about how we can help or get in touch to start a conversation. 

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