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Articles

Blockchain and the Healthcare Industry

Time to explore healthcare applications of the blockchain for the common good.

The word ‘block chain’ has been buzzing all over the news and social media. It sounds technical and complicated but also curiously interesting. So what is this and why is it important now? It’s definitely puzzling but the word explains itself if you dive deeper into it.

Blockchain is a specific type of database. With blockchain technology, new data and information comes in and is entered as a fresh block’. This data block is then ‘chained’ with other datablocks in chronological order and multiple types of data can be stored in a block chain.

Ever heard of cryptocurrency or bitcoin? That’s a great example of blockchain in finance. Blockchain is also widely used in asset management, claims processing for insurances, smart appliances, healthcare – the list is endless.

Coming to the healthcare delivery system in Pakistan, the nation has been spending less than 1 percent of its GDP on healthcare for many years now which is a huge problem on its own. To add to that, this already unfortunate fact is further shadowed by skyrocketing costs of tertiary healthcare services, inefficient and poor quality of public health facilities, and sparse yet fragmented digitization are all silently destroying the industry.

Now, although Pakistan does not have the greenest grass on the globe when it comes to healthcare, it is not alone. Even the most resilient of economies have struggled in the past few years, especially while trying to tackle the COVID 19 crisis. Blockchain brings a few solutions to the field and can help make the health delivery system a much better experience for the patient, provider, payer, and even the pharmaceutical aspect of it.

Blockchain can ensure patient privacy and protect medical records, to even manage global outbreaks similar to what we experienced with coronavirus. It’s time to start noticing it now more than ever.

A great practical example of blockchain in healthcare is RoboMed based in Russia. It combines the concepts of artificial intelligence and blockchain to produce a single point of care delivery system. They enable effective chatbots, diagnostic tools and telemedicine sessions to collect patient data and share it with the patient’s medical team.

Pakistan has embarked on the huge process and journey of rolling out COVID 19 vaccines. The government and healthcare professionals, public and private, could consider a blockchain supported administration system. It would ensure the right administration of the drug regardless of when, where and who.

In the ideal world this would be a universal system then interlinked with what’s coming to be a blockchain COVID vaccine passport, already begun in Israel and South Korea. This will be a complete paradigm shift to honesty and patient-provider transparency at a global level.

Blockchain isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, it doesn’t ensure absolute data security and between 2009 and 2017,

176 million patient data records have been said to be breached. There’s no doubt that blockchain isn’t perfect, but technology is literally improving by the minute and this is a low hanging fruit – a great solution, a risk worth being taken.

Health data fragmentation is the biggest root problem we face now, and have been facing for a while. Rather than having various multiple routes for digital data, we should focus on a single unit. This seems like a big vision for healthcare, and a lot of groundwork will go into it, including forging alliances across sectors, industries, and national boundaries. But this is what we must strive towards and this is how we will eventually move towards efficient healthcare for all.

It is high time Pakistan started working towards healthcare technology and blockchain legislation and more importantly its implementation. For us as a nation, it only gets better from this low point in healthcare delivery.

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