When assessing the true value of interoperability in the economics of healthcare, Blockchain-based systems are often mentioned as having the potential to not only improve data reliability, but also to decentralise trust as security is increased, and to reduce transaction costs across the board due to increased system efficiencies.
Cy Brown, Chief Technology Officer of Global Health, a Dubai-based digital healthcare provider, was able to provide Arab Health Magazine with some insightful comment regarding the exciting opportunities Blockchain offers in the healthcare sector.
With extensive experience in the following three key fields — Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, and IT infrastructure — recognising that these elements combined are poised to transform the healthcare sector as we currently know, is an exciting prospect for Brown.
Q: Let’s go back to basics – what is Blockchain?
To understand the scale of Blockchain’s potential, lets cast our minds back. Do you remember how 25 years ago there were many objectors to the Internet and many thought it would never take off? Well, what we see today is a very similar set of circumstances.
Back then, the Internet was not easy to use, and you had to be technically minded even to attempt setting up a modem to utilise it. Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, invented the Internet in 1989 and he gave it to the world for free. It changed nearly everything we do in terms of how we do it; this has touched almost every area of our daily lives and working lives!
Today, Blockchain is most commonly associated with Bitcoin, however, besides that fundamental use case, Blockchain is probably one of the most significant game changing technologies that we have seen in the last few decades besides the Internet, as the underlying technology is where the real innovation has been recognised.
In 2009, Bitcoin was created which was a feature of Blockchain — a form of distributed computing and processing power offering a third-party transparent model of data. The parallel? This was also given to everybody to use for free. Also, the next parallel to draw is not many people understand it or how to use it, however, this is changing every day and we are on the cusp of significant change.
Q: How does Blockchain provide opportunities in healthcare?
There are many opportunities with utilising Blockchain in healthcare with some immediate benefits that can be employed today. Firstly, in simple terms, Blockchain is a very secure ledger which means it can record entirely accurately any information stored or transacted on Blockchain. This can range from patient identification, the processing of prescriptions, to the saving of x-ray images. This can never be impacted by threats like viruses, denial of services and hacking.
You might ask how is this possible? This is the power of decentralised processing and storage. In simple terms, you are not able to attack a single computer and gain access to and control of all of the computers deployed on the network. In today’s world, data integrity and protecting people’s data is one of the most critical responsibilities of any organisation or institution.
Q: What effect will Blockchain have on Electronic Health Records? Do you have any other case studies where its use might be promising?
The impact of Blockchain on health records has so many benefits; first and foremost, security, as the records cannot be falsified or changed by anyone that is not authorised to do so. Once the record is added to your laptop or a device that could be lost or destroyed, Blockchain instantly stores the document and it is automatically updated across Blockchain keeping it safe and secure.
At the same time, it will allow easy access to whomever in healthcare needs to view your records to assist you. Similarly, it is also very transparent for the patient as they can gain access to the identical records, if needed.
However, this is not just a promising opportunity; this has already been deployed in Estonia where they have a fully digitised healthcare system where all records are now stored on Blockchain. Everyone in Estonia has a digital ID card that also verifies their access to healthcare and enables them to view their records and avoid the pitfalls where in many countries in the world we see fragmented health record systems, often unreliable due to proprietary systems that are slow to access.
Blockchain proves that it is already able to help solve this and be a more unifying core records system — this is real progress.
Q: What impact will adoption of Blockchain have on R&D in life sciences?
There are so many exciting use cases concerning process and discovery; this is perfect for Blockchain as it can be considered as a large, secure and transparent ledger (when needed).
Let us consider the complexity of life science research, investment, collaboration, and validation often in very large organisations, and across multiple borders. This requires scaled planning and infrastructure on a mammoth scale. Often, we see an element of paranoia from the organisations where more collaboration could advance and enhance the speed at which transformative developments could happen. These organisations are all worried and reluctant to share what they learn, fearing its theft and ultimately, loss of crucial intellectual property (IP).
Blockchain has an answer to this. This approach could basically mean the R&D process has access to safe collaboration literally as part of the inbuilt Blockchain features allowing only information to be shared and validated that each party has agreed in advance. With these parameters programmed into the Blockchain, we could see a significant shift in working practice that results in an increase in productivity and, ultimately, faster advances to the tough challenges we see in this field. At the same time, it offers a way to license and track the end products generated ensuring a reliable and measurable income.
Q: What is the true value of Blockchain for healthcare?
This is, of course, an interesting question. In terms of its real value for healthcare, and some of this may be subjective, but my view is that it will bring a robust, secure, data-rich and highly transferable infrastructure where we see far fewer errors and mistakes in the propagation and updating of patient records. This also will have a long-term cost benefit for healthcare in every area.
Very importantly, it will help with what is arguably one of the hidden costs in all services regarding healthcare by assisting the tracking of what the costs are, regarding which patient received which healthcare support related to which provider, especially when you consider the insurance sector and lowering fraud.
Also, the significant factor in all of this is that it helps healthcare become more tailored and structured towards a patient-centred view, over the long term, as ultimately the patient will have more control, transparency, and choices in the whole process.
Q: What do you see as the challenges to implementation/barriers to adoption?
There are some key challenges to overcome in the implementation on Blockchain technology into healthcare. First and foremost is the understanding of how this technology can help and, in turn, the adoption uptake and efficient delivery of the technology to help enhance and transform healthcare. As I mentioned earlier, think back to the beginning of the Internet and the struggles that were faced here.
However, the case for Blockchain is so compelling, and a considerable number of smart minds are working now to address this and design and innovate ways to bring this to market.
The overall barrier to this is, of course, the investment needed, as this will dictate how quickly the technological challenges can be surmounted to offer solutions and products that can be more easily integrated and adopted for healthcare in general.
Q: Will we see adoption of Blockchain for healthcare in the Middle East in the future?
You will indeed see precisely this in the Middle East and, much sooner than you think. We at Global Health are poised to roll out some pioneering products that will bring transformative healthcare forward. Our unique telemedicine, prognosis, and urgent assistance products will enable many of these key technologies to be utilised today harnessing Blockchain and AI with a hybrid solution approach.
However, besides what we offer, I would expect that healthcare approaches similar to Estonia will be the footprint of the way forward for healthcare in the Middle East. We will look back in 20 or so years from now and wonder how life was like before Blockchain changed how we deal with information as a whole — that I can be quoted on!