Protecting Health Data with Blockchain

By Sunjin Chang and Linda Ng

Currently, the biggest problem in healthcare is the disorganization of multiple and fragmented health records about patients. By storing medical record transactions on the blockchain, a smart and secure healthcare ecosystem is created. The ability of the digital ledger to provide public, transparent, but safe access to health data may mean there is a solution to resolving an ultimate issue: cancer.


Changing Cancer Research

Cancer

For over decades, doctors have been using a main, general treatment for cancer patients. However, researchers are developing a specific, targeting treatment that is more effective in curing people. The way to successfully treat a cancer patient is to find it at the earliest stage. For example, scientists have attempted to target breast cancer, the most common type of cancer for women, with blockchain.


Every cancer patient endures a different experience. A patient's individual genetic makeup responds uniquely to treatments catered to their DNA. With information spread across the blockchain, researchers worldwide will have a higher chance in finding a cure or a solution to a patient's condition. With today's advanced technology, protecting personal health data is extremely important and vital for every health provider. By successfully implementing blockchain, data can be safely shared with everyone, including scientists who strive to find health solutions. 


Benefits of Blockchain in Healthcare 

Health

Today, digital healthcare is largely based on electronic health records (EHRs). This provides better access to patient data, and medical errors and costs can be reduced while patient safety and outcomes can be improved. Patient data is generally fragmented and has poor security because of the variety of EHR systems available, making it an easy target for hacking. 


However, with blockchain, inputting large amounts of data will be protected no matter what. Patients and healthcare professionals can safely share health records with each other. Blockchain also offers a greater sense of data transparency. For example, patient data will be securely shared throughout all the networks, giving researchers better and faster access to numerous information that will help them determine a cure for cancer. Overall, this makes it difficult for hackers to access personal health data through the digital ledger especially because of its decentralization. All nodes are connected, allowing information to flow through each simultaneously. 


Medical costs and procedures would be accessible with data cryptographically signed, which would likely reduce incidence of fraud and errors. With blockchain, there would be exposure to all data records from within the ecosystem. Blockchain brings the ability to create personalized medicine mainstream as it is defined as tailored treatment for individuals based on their medical history and genetics. With blockchain, patients have full control over who is allowed access to their health data for a limited time.


Conflicts with Using Blockchain

Health

As the transition from paper to digital data occurs, challenges arise regarding the incapability of storing medical data, specifically images, that are too large for the current blockchain storage. Despite the advantages of accessible data via blockchain, some are unwilling to share their data with others. 


The reasoning behind this is the fear of further breaches, negative media attention and a loss of community trust. For example, cancer patients will undergo CAT scans, radiology notes, along with other records saved with different companies creating a larger ecosystem of trust that could potentially be broken. Players in the healthcare ecosystem don’t want to jeopardize the trust of their patients. For some, the system of blockchain is just too confusing and adapting to the new system could be a potential struggle for some healthcare experts.


Regardless of the difficulty of implementing blockchain, early adopters in the industry have seen clear benefits from the new system. After stabilizing the system, blockchain has the possibility to become a fundamental base for the future of innovative healthcare programs


When people go to different physicians for diagnosis or health checkups, their information is usually only contained within the physician’s health center. Yet if they go to another health professional, their data would not transfer over. Instead, patients would typically receive another, similar diagnosis or different, alternative information.  


Precision Medicine


(Source: Medium)


The latest trend in healthcare, the precision medicine initiative can be improved by blockchain. This concept attempts to fully understand a person’s genetics, environment, and lifestyle in order to determine the prevention or cure of diseases. However, due to data silos, it has never fully been accomplished. 


Blockchain can solve the issue by enabling all health data to be safely and accurately stored into the system. The faster researchers access numerous amounts of data, they are quicker to detect what a patient currently has or needs that is similar to their genetic makeup, and then that can determine the specific treatment she needs. 


As an innovative, connected technology, blockchain has the ability to transform the health industry, especially with the efficient management on health records which in turn will solve substantial issues in the field. Cancer research will have the resources to ultimately find cures for patients, and the low cost of data management that comes with blockchain will enable the fast process in retrieving data. The ability to access numerous research and databases on different types of health data--especially genomic data--will enable people to find symptoms and signs of cancer risks much quicker.


Technology is changing the health industry. And you should be changing with it. 

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