“Everything will be tokenized and connected by a blockchain one day”
— Fred Ehrsam
Blockchain is considered a promising technology for healthcare. As described in an earlier edition of Healthcare Enablers, the technology is difficult to define . Blockchain is a database technology where digital information is not stored in a centralised location. Instead, every party has an identical copy of the ledger. Changes to the database are distributed to all parties like ‘blocks on a chain’, giving rise to a large network. A change becomes final as soon as the majority of the network has verified it. Blockchain allows for secure online transfer for values such as data or money because it is less fraud-sensitive than traditional database technologies. In addition, transactions are not dependent on a trusted third party such as a bank, insurance company or notary [2-5].
Applications & benefits
Blockchain offers the ability to give individuals secure ownership of their personal data and enables secure information exchange by patients and healthcare professionals . The user gets to decide who can get access to their data and knows exactly what is being recorded or shared. In addition, the technology facilitates secure data exchange in the healthcare chain and reduces the administrative burden by automating processes via smart contracts and such . Thanks to the integration of processes and data, error margins and transaction costs are reduced. Blockchain has the potential to improve the transparency, accuracy and efficiency of our healthcare system . It is becoming increasingly clear what aspects of healthcare can truly benefit from the added value of this technology [9, 10]. This involves storage and administration of medical data and informed consent on the one hand . On the other hand, it can be combined with the IoT in order to track and administer drug warehousing in order to secure the supply chain and organise it more efficiently .
Blockchain is becoming a mainstream technology. This is underlined by the fact that more and more healthcare organisations are accepting payment in cryptocurrency. Over 23 different ‘healthcare’ cryptocurrencies are available globally at the time of writing . And the capabilities of blockchain have been penetrating healthcare itself as well . The global market value of blockchain in healthcare is expected to grow by 36.2% annually between 2021 and 2027. That will take the market value from $354.9 million in 2020 to $3.1 billion in 2027 . The pharmaceutical industry will be responsible for over 44% of that market .
Increasing pressure on the healthcare system
Changing healthcare needs
Growing availability of (medical) data
Lack of expertise
High costs (development, purchase, and maintenance)
Immaturity of the application
Questions remain with regards to the privacy, scalability and governance of the infrastructure. In addition, expertise is often lacking to apply blockchain to institutions or systems. Interest from the pharmaceutical industry involved in precision medicine is yet another driver for efficient data storage [17-19]. In addition, the development of blockchain in healthcare is stimulated by the growing availability of medical data.
Blockchain has enormous potential. Slowly but surely, applications of this technology are leaving the realm of experimentation and entering the phase of actual implementation into the healthcare process. Blockchain technology will contribute to the dismantling of data silos and the promotion of data interoperability, integrity and safety. The technology and its use thereby contribute to the empowered patient, system security and supply chains as well as the evolution of autonomous systems.
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