The Good and Bad Sides of Blockchain for the Current Healthcare Sector
After a short period of scepticism naturally accompanying every new-fangled thing, people have ceased to be afraid of blockchain with its seemingly confusing and unreliable cryptocurrencies. There has followed a shower of successful blockchain projects for practically every industry proving the technology’s true potential. Today, many people consider blockchain a digital golden goose, offering unlimited opportunities and considerable financial gain. In fact, it’s usually better to stick to the middle ground to avoid rash decisions and unexpected failures.
Introducing a blockchain initiative in the retail industry can hardly be called a challenge as the field is open to experiments and welcomes innovative approaches. The same applies to gambling, the IT industry, manufacturing of any kind, agriculture and many more areas of commerce. When it comes to the healthcare industry, specific restrictions are expected. Healthcare logically deals with human health conditions, thus eliminating room for live experiments within an industry. Governmental regulatory restrictions, strict security standards, profound trials for all suggested solutions prior to their implementation are involved. Moreover, no changes are possible without the approval of the global community. We need to carefully consider if blockchain really fits into these restricted frames.
Considering blockchain-based healthcare initiatives, we should outline the key advantages and drawbacks of these projects, and define their correlation with blockchain healthcare solutions. Let’s examine the list of the most obvious blockchain cons first.
It should be noted, the system has not many drawbacks but mostly risks and vulnerabilities. These deal with network technical characteristics and don’t have clear explanations for general audiences, although we’ll try to make them transparent.
- The possibility of a security flaw caused by a massive network attack. It’s a well-known fact blockchain nodes operate by consensus, meaning if the major part (51% and more to be exact) of the network computers are hacked or somehow misused, the consensus would be given to the wrong transaction (data piece). This way, a lie can become a new truth. To prevent this course of events, the community of modern blockchain projects carefully monitor bitcoin mining pools. In regards to the healthcare, two factors play into the hands of current healthcare solutions: the vast and ever increasing size of the communities and the doubtful gain from a massive attack due to the highly individualized nature of healthcare ecosystems.
- Blockchain networks run by means of nodes. But, when the platform is newly created, it does not usually have enough nodes to ensure comfortable, extensive usage. This results in higher performance costs and slower transactions due to the nodes specific requirements. As the network grows, it learns to incentivise nodes by offering advantageous costs to its users within opportune transactions timeframes. Basically, this drawback overgrows itself with time.
- The majority of blockchain projects normally use their own token currencies (or token currencies from the well-known mining pools like ETH). In contrast to traditional currencies which are highly regulated and dependent on the economies they represent (like USD for the USA), token economies open doors to speculative activities. This is because token nature implies limited regulations and high volatility. Tokens are prone to abrupt fluctuation affecting transaction value.
- Blockchain initiatives boast of their decentralized decision making, but there might be a catch there too. If the community is divided about future network changes, there could be a situation of nodes running on new software coming into conflict with those transactions based on nodes operating on the old one. This leads to the creation of a new network, sharing the same history as the one it originated from. These occasions are called forks, and they tend to cause uncertainty, fragmenting blockchain networks with involved power into separate units.
- The transactions within blockchain are operated within the frames of fixed smart contracts, and when a contract is added to the network, it becomes immutable and resistant to any changes. If there are any code deficiencies in a contract, they become the possible subject of hacker misuse. If there is no activity under the contract, it does not pose a threat, but if the contract is used and it stores value, the hackers can benefit from code flaws by sending the value to their own accounts. Although the transactions certainly leave ‘trace,’ the contracts’ immutable nature makes it practically impossible to undo those transfers.
The advantages of blockchain are currently promoted everywhere; you have probably heard of them by now. However, we try to provide some details about the benefits to healthcare they entail.
- Trustless is probably not something you expect to see in the ‘Pros’ list. However, in this context, it means the system does not require trusted relationships to ensure the reliability of system operations. In the real world, trust is not something you can build on a large scale; it works well for small businesses. However, considering regional or global industries like healthcare, the foundation should be more reliable and solid. The step-by-step transactions tracking records eliminate space for violations and fraud. The trustless nature of smart contracts takes away psychological uncertainty as to involvance in the environment. In the healthcare world, this feature endows each party of the relationships (either it a patient, a doctor or a pharmacy agent) with the responsibility for their own input (information, prescriptions, etc).
- Greater transparency through the same system of tracking records eradicates corruption and criminal negligence. When it comes to the payment system, transparency plays a key role in establishing fair pricing with no hidden fees involved. Healthcare projects can come up with beneficial special offers using their token economies.
- Since blockchain networks are distributed, a great number of computers can participate. If running on a global scale, with numerous computers all over the world, the systems grow resistance to tampering, fraud and massive cyber attacks ensuring the security of your personal medical data and payment records.
- Although the immutable nature of smart contracts may serve as a vulnerability in cases of code deficiencies, it ensures the solid storage of records preventing any sort criminal data alteration or mistakes caused by wrong data interpretation (in healthcare it’s vital to both make adequate prescriptions and follow them). This immutable skeleton serves as a default basis for healthcare digitization for new generations, keeping their records from the date of patients birth until the last day of their lives.
- Thanks to its decentralized system, blockchain obviates the need for the ‘middleman’ reducing costs and improving field efficiency. The platform serves as a conductor of services between parties. In healthcare, this approach can provide multiple advantages. For example: ClinicAll ward trolleys are a bridge to the platform services for hospital patients allowing them to directly use system benefits like special offers from pharmacies, or additional snacks without interference from the hospital staff.
Network size can be listed in both pros and cons of technology, and more importantly, it correlates with other possible risks. Small networks are more vulnerable to outside attacks and cannot boast of the benefits of massive networks like global reach, incentive rewards for user inputs, wide service range, economical reasoning and time saving solutions. Strictly speaking the bigger the better, with size characteristics serving as a precondition for further platform development and ensuring desired results if scaled. Nevertheless, the healthcare industry implies either regional or global communities and thus levels this doubtful disadvantage.
When speaking of the brightest examples of blockchain-based solutions, we should mention the ClinicAll project. Designed as a unique environment for the healthcare community comprised of all field players, ClinicAll will offer different public and private medical services. The platform will not be geographically limited and operate all over the world, provided there is a reliable internet connection and healthcare institutions participating in the ecosystem. The system supports real-time clinic-wide updates and global data synchronization in hospitals equipped with ClinicAll terminals and software, eliminating tragic incidents caused by data interoperability and insufficient patients’ data at the point-of-care. Thanks to the company’s vast experience in producing software solutions for the sector, it is able to offer services of comfort as video and audio monitoring for nurseries, eye-contact mouse for patients with limited mobility, patient-adjustable room conditions, and individual catering services. Moreover, the company has been taking the first steps in automating administrative tasks in hospitals, facing the current problem of staff shortage in many regions. The future platform entails significant diversification of service range and ensures more competitiveness and transparency to current healthcare practices.
To conclude, let’s do a quick check: Considering 5 points from both pro and con sides, we can judge their merits to finally decide if blockchain is a good or bad solution for healthcare. From the five mentioned cons, 1,4 and 5 are conditional (and thus not very probable), 2 is self solving and 3 is valid, but not necessarily impending as it depends on the expertise of the company initiating the blockchain project. The pros speak well for themselves. It’s time to finally overcome our outdated prejudice and make an informed solution bringing the healthcare industry forward!
For those who wish to know more, please visit http://www.clinicall-ico.com/