It’s heady days in the blockchain world thanks the the meteoric rise of bitcoin--news of fortunes made and lost have been splashed across front page newspapers for months. But the public is also starting to understand that blockchain’s potential is far, far greater than just helping savvy crypto investors get rich.
A new way to do more than just manage data.
Blockchain provides many industries with a totally new way to store and manage data, and thus stands poised to revolutionize those industries, and in turn, the world, much like Henry Ford’s assembly line suddenly and absolutely transformed automobiles, and consequently, our entire society.
Is blockchain more disruptive than healthcare?
Possibly no industry faces greater disruption from blockchain than healthcare. This industry represents a huge portion of the economy--Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services predict that healthcare spending will cover nearly 20 percent of the U.S. national economy by 2025. And of course, this sector has a very real effect on the average person’s quality of life. How could blockchain be leveraged to disrupt and improve the healthcare industry over the next few years?
Increasing Medical Record Usability.
The days of doctor’s offices keeping massive file rooms with a paper folder for every patient are long gone. Electronic medical record keeping systems have been adopted by 96 percent of hospitals, according to Modern Healthcare.
These record systems essentially replicate the paper folders that came before, allowing doctors to record health information across patient visits and easily search for different factors in a patient’s health history. But EMR systems still have a major problem: they are often incompatible and institution-specific.
The MIT Technology Review recently reported that there are 26 different EMR systems used across hospitals and providers in Boston, each representing data differently. These compatibility issues are inconvenient, of course, but they also can stifle information flow needed to save a patient’s life.
According to Health Standards, blockchain presents a feasible solution to the EMR dilemma. Blockchain can act as a centralized public ledger--much as it does for bitcoin transactions--that can serve as an immutable and comprehensive record of patient data.
Tearing Down Research Silos.
Healthcare data is a valuable thing, and as with any valuable thing, it can be hoarded to the detriment of the public. Institutions “silo” data when they keep it inaccessible to others, impeding collaboration and discovery.
This may be justifiable behavior for some data classes due to privacy concerns, but for many other data groups, siloing, whether an intentional economic strategy or simply the result of inefficient data management, impedes healthcare research and progress. Forbes recently deemed data silos “Healthcare’s Silent Shame”.
Again using blockchain’s immutable public ledger, research data stored on the blockchain can be made universally accessible and searchable. Duplicated research efforts and “missed connections” can be reduced or even eliminated through blockchain technology.
So let’s say healthcare data gets smarter and bigger, and for any provider or researcher there’s suddenly a lot more compatible information to look through. Are there further applications for that data than humans running searches? Absolutely. AI is being designed to help with data analytics in plenty of industries, including healthcare. A machine-learning AI program can identify new areas for innovation by sorting through millions and millions of data points faster than any human ever could. AI’s data-sorting capabilities are already being explored by companies such as Google and Intel.
A few companies are proposing promising blockchain solutions to healthcare issues. One particularly innovative startup is Nano Vision. Nano Vision is creating a global, decentralized blockchain economy that can be used to store health data on the molecular level. They’ve partnered with Arm, the world’s leading semiconductor IP company, to produce sophisticated chips smaller than a pinhead.
The system-on-chip architecture can be used by researchers, doctors, and ordinary “citizen scientists” in a variety of environments and devices to collect data on health issues such as superbugs or heart disease.
All data collected by the chips is encoded on the Nano Sense blockchain, creating an immutable, universally accessible database of vital healthcare data. Nano’s platform uses AI and machine learning to constantly analyze the ever-growing dataset, becoming smarter the more data it looks at.
The AI will ultimately be able to predict new trends and areas of collaboration for future healthcare research, drawing connections that ordinary human searchers may struggle to find in such an immense amount of data. Not that far into the future, scientific breakthroughs may be made by a partnership of researchers and AI.
Nano Vision maintains its blockchain ecosystem by minting a dedicated cryptocurrency on the data-gathering chips. The Nano tokens can be bought and sold like other cryptocurrencies, and within the Nano economy users can allocate funds to research that is particularly important to them.
Infrastructure development and privacy issues are both big hurdles to clear for blockchain-based healthcare disruption, but they’re not impossible to conquer. The key will be to pay attention to true innovators in the blockchain world, who are exploring the very best possible uses for this revolutionary technology. Nano Vision is one of those innovators.
What are some other ways blockchain could be applied in healthcare?