In 2014, New Zealand saw a record number of breaches in patient confidentiality. Physical records were lost or stolen, unauthorised employees were able to browse patient files and medical information was accidentally sent to the wrong recipient - and these are just examples of cases that were reported. Currently, the process for reporting incidents and near-misses for New Zealand’s Healthcare providers is entirely voluntary - a sobering fact, when you consider the number of people who could potentially be accessing your very personal information, undetected. The current system lacks transparency - how can one trust it if there’s a perceived lack of security?
With the Blockchain and Smart Contracts - this trust could be restored.
So what would it look like if personal health data was authenticated and encrypted on the Blockchain? A smart contract would be set up, outlining the parameters that must be met in order to unlock the patients data in the event it is needed by a medical provider; a contributor to patient records, a doctor, pharmacist or administrative staff. The patient would keep a copy of their code or key which they’d use to access their health data. If a patient was unable to provide the key to their files, for example in the event of incapacitation, patient files will only be unlocked if all levels of authentication are met. A more in depth example can be found here.
Through the use of smart contracts1, patients could give any doctor or medical professional access to their health records, whenever they needed it. What if the patient moves and visits a new doctor? What if they’re travelling and they need to seek medical attention? With the Blockchain, their records would stay with them. Administrative delays or changes in timezones wouldn’t hinder access to information, and as a result, the quality of treatment would not be compromised.
Patients could have more control over their data, who it’s shared with, the way it’s shared and how requests are executed when the patient can’t speak for themselves.
This might seem like a pipedream, but in fact it isn’t too far away from being developed. A blockchain based health wallet has already been conceptualised as part of the DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation) project, that raised USD$150million in May 2016 for Blockchain related technology startups. This health wallet could provide a way to not only easily and securely share information that medical professionals hold on behalf of their patients; but also compile an overall picture of the patient’s health. Creators say that data could be pulled from various devices (such as fitness trackers) along with channels like social media in order to provide a health snapshot that individuals can view, analyse and manage themselves. Imagine the impact this could have if people could proactively manage their health alongside their doctors, instead of reacting only when they experience symptoms.
The benefits of Blockchain-stored health records are clear for patients, but what about for hospitals, GP offices and other medical specialists? One major advantage is the huge cost saving associated with automating the management of this medical data. Another is a reduction in data management risks such as human negligence, system errors and the potential for malicious hacks. Companies charged with maintaining the ecosystem of patients, medical professionals and life-saving equipment are storing, backing up and securing millions of identities. While this vastly complex system has served us well so far, it is highly outdated.
There is still lot of thinking to do around the integration of Blockchain technology with the Healthcare system, however according to Gem Health, who are building applications and shared infrastructure for healthcare, the future looks very bright. “We imagine a future where every patient holds the keys to their healthcare passport, bridging patient care among multiple providers and across borders. We imagine hospitals hiring more doctors and nurses on a budget recovered from wasted reconciliation expenses. We imagine labs, wearables, shopping lists, and healthcare apps working together to inform a healthier population.” (more here)