Is there a chance for a symbiosis of blockchain and conservative healthcare?

Posted on: 19.12.2018
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Is blockchain in healthcare overhyped, or does it offer real benefits for patients? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the new technology? I asked some experts from this area, and here are their opinions.

Elene Poughia, MD at Dataconomy Media and Data Natives, Greece

It is overhyped to the verge of ridicule concerning how many projects are attempting to integrate blockchain in order to get funding, even though they do not understand what the technology is, what it can offer their domain and how to integrate it in the product they are trying to build. In general, beware of the whole "bullshit buzzword bingo". On the other hand, I do feel that a lot of healthcare projects can benefit from utilising blockchain technology, from securing safe payment transactions and administrating expenses, to securely monitoring the supply chain of drugs or providing a healthcare infrastructure for women in rural areas.

Jakob Uffelmann, CEO of the sundhed.dk International Foundation, Denmark

First and foremost, when a technology is high on the hype curve, you create a situation where people need to explain why they don’t want to use it rather than the technology proving its value in specific cases. The way blockchain is presented in healthcare assumes that the data generated is the patients' data, and is a source for their purpose. In reality the data we use in patient records in a highly digitalised system is data generated from a variety of systems with different uses. Some data can be harvested from a booking system that makes the operating room and equipment available for a patient. Other data include documentation of medication use in a specific procedure at a clinic. All this has to be documented according to the law and, per se, is not the patient’s own data.

But let’s say that the patient obtained full control over their blockchain of healthcare data. When you are admitted to a hospital, then visit your GP, you will over a period of a few weeks accumulate a vast number of data touchpoints as a patient. By then you will want a “default” setting, otherwise you would have to spend time approving every single step. Very few people would prefer that over convenience, or for that matter patient safety – when your doctors need to check or add to your data. In the Bitcoin blockchain you lose your data if you throw away your key. There is no central trusted party that controls access to the blockchain. Would it be acceptable for your health data to be gone without the ability of recovery? These are just some of the concerns with our current blockchain technology.

Michael Kaldasch, Founder & CEO @ Aimedis B.V., Germany

I think blockchain and tokens as a sole argument are somehow overhyped. Blockchains and tokens offer great additional use cases and features, plus offer great benefits like transparency and trust for users, but that does not make a working product or company.

Anton Hasselgren, Researcher and PhD Fellow in Medical Technology Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway

Blockchain in healthcare is starting to move from being an area of discussion and opinions (most likely overhyped in one sense) to concrete, developed and tested proposals. In academic research, the published literature has moved from speculative suggestions to actually developed solutions that are being tested in practice during 2018. There is no doubt that blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies present some clear benefits for health informatics. However, we need to remember that in this conservative industry, proposals that grasp for too much, such as reinventing national medical health records, may have to face a long road to implementation. Nonetheless, there are areas where implementing blockchain technology would be much more feasible at this point, such as in medical research. To store participants informed consent in a blockchain would, for example, be a small but highly relevant topic to address – and is currently being explored by many actors. Although in this area the benefits of introducing a more transparent, traceable and tamper-proof data storage structure are unlikely to be acknowledged by either pharmaceutical companies or research institutes. If the regulations required researchers to present data handling methods that are more transparent, traceable and tamper-proof – then a blockchain enhanced solution would be an obvious choice. Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies will be a key infrastructure component in health informatics in the next five years, but probably not noticeable to others than the professionals in the field.

Artur Olesch

Artur Olesch

Digital Health Journalist

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