Blockchain, Healthcare and the Pandemic: What's at Stake for Technology During the Current Health Crisis?
10 years after its emergence and the first use case of blockchain technology, Bitcoin continues to stir up many misunderstandings, sometimes even virulence in some online debates. On the one hand, supporters of the blockchain claim it solves all the woes of the world. On the other hand, just as vehemently, are those who see the blockchain as just a glorified, distributed database.
As is often the case in such discussions, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the opposing opinions. While it is no longer possible to justify that the blockchain is just a fad, blockchain-maximalists are also becoming increasingly rare as the technology is settling into its natural place alongside the world’s other technological breakthroughs, which are also shaping the tech landscape of tomorrow.
This is how the blockchain is gradually finding its rightful place as a powerful tool, whose ‘Swiss army knife’ aspect reveals its great potential. This prepares it to move far beyond the cryptocurrency space, outgrowing its sector of birth.
Today, TheCoinTribune welcomes the point of view of Cédric Dubuq, blockchain lawyer who has covered many ICOs and worked extensively on the blockchain and healthcare issues. Dubuq sheds light on the potential contributions of blockchain technology in the health sector. In a potential context of recurring pandemics, these include improved structures, processes and above all improved responsiveness of all players in the sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic: a new crisis that calls for new solutions
Not since WWII have we had to endure such freedom-killing measures – only now with the rising threat of the COVID-19 health crisis. Our grandparents will remember the dark days of war, while epidemiologists will lecture us that it was inevitable.
Regardless, it seems it is here to stay. Our common duty today is to prevent the next pandemic, and for that it is essential to combine efforts, research and resources. Enter the blockchain, a revolutionary tool ready to meet the challenges of our time.
In healthcare, there are a plethora of potential uses for the blockchain. It therefore can intervene at different stages of a crisis, from prevention to crisis management, including the potential drifts resulting from it.
Blockchain and crisis anticipation
The blockchain will have three uses ahead of a possible health crisis. It will intervene in order to speed up and guarantee the drug authentication process, create reflection consortia in order to advance research and even improve the interoperability of global players in healthcare.
Blockchain and drugs: fighting fraud
The use of the blockchain in pharmaceuticals will be crucial. Therefore, to no surprise, the issues involved are numerous. According to the WHO, the fake medicines market generates between 120 and 160 billion euros per year. One in 10 medicines worldwide are counterfeit. This can amount to 7 out of 10 drugs in Africa. This is a scourge on a global scale. Faced with this challenge, how could the blockchain intervene?
Traceability is key. From production to use, or even to the recycling of the product, all changes made will be recorded on a distributed global register. This means there will be irrefutable proof that all the parties concerned have been made aware of the new or modified data.
This will restore confidence in the product through proof of authenticity. The origin and integrity of the pharmaceutical supply chain’s drugs can be verified by the healthcare users.
Likewise, it is possible to use a blockchain to store evidence of a document’s existence. This would be useful for medical prescriptions, which today are prone to fraud. Thanks to the blockchain, pharmacists could thus verify the authenticity of the prescriptions offered to them.
Blockchain and research: boosting reflection
The pharmaceutical sector is competitive, while the medical world requires cooperation. Here, economic interest clashes with the greater good. It is imperative that all the medical entities in the world can work in unison because, as we have seen, the shortcomings of one country’s healthcare system has consequences for all others.
A common effort that could create a research system which combines collaboration and efficiency seems almost mandatory. Any researcher would be able to, through the use of a blockchain, share their research in order to receive comments and suggestions from other healthcare professionals.
At the same time, a researcher working on a similar project would be able to share his/her data with those already submitted. Connections will then be created that would have been previously impossible, encouraging the formation of virtuous circles of healthcare professionals. In addition, collaborating researchers would be able to recognise everyone’s participation and thus receive a fair reward once the work has been completed.
Blockchain and communication: improving the interoperability of actors
150,000 lives and $18.6 billion per year. These are the human and financial losses linked to the lack of global standardisation between the various players in e-health.
This standardisation of data is the key argument for the development of a ‘health’ blockchain. It would thus become possible to connect all the players in the healthcare sector, from hospitals to patients, via insurance companies and laboratories. Everyone would have access to medical records but also to images or real life data in just one click, regardless of any geographic disparities.
Developing this dynamic would make it possible to deal with worldwide emergencies with much greater efficiency. The emergency doctor, regardless of location, would immediately have access to all necessary information: blood type, allergies, recent or current treatments, pregnancy and so on.
This mechanism has been adopted by Estonia since 2017. In fact, 97% of Estonians currently use a ‘digital identity card’ which centralises their electronic medical record so it can be used by all intervening parties at a national level (we have already discussed this in the article studying the potential of identity 3.0 – Estonia is ahead of the game)
It is one of the most efficient devices for tracking general health trends, tracking epidemics and allocating health resources wisely. This may explain why Estonia’s mortality rate during the COVID-19 crisis currently stands at less than 2%…
However, even with the implementation of all these devices, we cannot be completely immune from all future viruses. If this happens we will have to act and, once again, trust technology to save lives.
Blockchain and the management of a health crisis
When there is a new virus, work on vaccines is started as quickly as possible. However, the complexity of medicine means large-scale testing is required to ensure the viability of the proposed cure. These are more commonly referred to as clinical trials.
The blockchain could thus have a determining role in a vaccine’s performance in the coming years. Furthermore, insurance companies will be able to directly compensate their customers in this particular context of crisis via smart contracts. The security aspect of the blockchain in the medical community will then become a guarantor in the fight against potential abuses.
Blockchain, health and clinical trials: testing for faster treatment
As previously mentioned, the blockchain is a tool combining communication and inviolability. It is therefore easy to understand its potential in conducting large-scale clinical trials throughout different countries as a pandemic spreads.
It would inject a dose of trust and transparency between patients and doctors. The former will have their privacy respected while the latter can transmit strictly confidential health information securely. In this sense, Sanofi, the world’s third largest healthcare group, has commissioned numerous expert reports on the subject.
However, the interest in this area goes beyond that of a simple crisis framework. For rare diseases, for which there are few patients, it would then become possible to pool analysis data and therefore, once again, to create a research company. In another scenario, South Korea has put the blockchain to use in order to study the benefits of medical hemp. As drugs are particularly taboo in Far Eastern societies, these trials have enabled researchers to carry out their research while ensuring the anonymity of its consumers.
Blockchain and insurance: reassurance through reimbursement
The insurance community is already aware of smart-contracts, especially in the (far too important) field of airline flight delays and cancellations. However, in the health sector, this technique has yet to be implemented, at least not optimally.
The economic criterion of health is central to the management of the pandemic. The implementation of automated, self-executing programmes would ensure immediate reimbursement for nursing care, with no need for payment advances. This would be the most successful form of our already exemplary social security system. By avoiding unnecessary and costly complexities for the patient, on the one hand suffering from the situation of global economic recession and on the other hand its potential difficulties, insurance companies would play an essential role in safeguarding purchasing power in anticipation of the economic crisis that could follow the preceding health crisis.
Blockchain and genetic data management: anticipating potential drifts
To this day, although we do not necessarily know it, the management of our genetic data does not belong to us. It is the full property of the laboratory which decodes the genome and not the person whose genes they are. This, of course, is a problem because we know the impact and weight of data in our modern world.
While it may be a memory some of us are trying to forget, the Cambridge Analytica escapades will remind us that we tend to forget that our data is everywhere, far beyond our identity as user and consumer.
The implementation of a blockchain architecture, able to secure our identity, would then make it possible to anticipate any potential crisis related to the leak of personal data.
As we can see, when it comes to everyday healthcare or even unprecedented pandemic management, the blockchain is irremediably the security and trust solution necessary for this modern, technological advanced era. Even if some are already offering to exchange your genomes for tokens…
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The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and should not be taken as investment advice. Do your own research before taking any investment decisions.