A vast majority of the population couldn’t picture the idea of a digitized currency back in 2008 with the launch of Bitcoin. Fast forward a little over a decade later, and the cryptocurrency market capped at a 2.4 trillion dollars value in May of 2021. There are now even ETFs that intentionally mirror the price of the digital currency pioneer. We have to ask ourselves, what is the technology that is making this all possible? Bitcoin, as well as all other digital currencies, utilize a blockchain that makes the authentication and security of all Bitcoin transactions possible. The cryptocurrency market has been a great place for the blockchain to demonstrate its legitimacy, but we are now entering an exciting time period where blockchain is beginning to be utilized in other industries, and the MedTech sector is just turning the corner with this innovation.
While the inner workings of a blockchain could be another article, blockchain offers an entirely new approach for many different areas of MedTech, including secure identity management in health care, management of patient consent and data access permissions, and ease of management for medical and pharmaceutical supply chains. BIS Research has shown estimated reports that the application and integration of a blockchain in various healthcare use cases could save more than $100 billion per year in costs related to IT, operations, support functions, persona, corporate, and health data breaches by 2025.
Blockchain for Identity Management in Healthcare
Implementing a blockchain distributed ledger (preferably a partially decentralized, private one in this use case*) to control identity management has immense capabilities to eliminate many security risks of centralized databases. The decentralized model of a blockchain creates a new barrier for attackers in that they do not only have to trick one machine into thinking their access is authorized, but an entire subset of nodes that contain copies of the blockchain instance. The (permanent) data is decentralized, encrypted, and cross-checked by all the nodes on the network. Also, the demand for eHealth has increased significantly due to the pandemic. Secure access to health data and medical records for patients is a key feature that the blockchain can bring, and there are already prototypes/papers in place to implement so. Get ready for a whole new era of data security.
Blockchain Technology Applications to Post-Market Surveillance of Medical Devices
Another great benefit of blockchain for MedTech is for the ability to secure remote surveillance medical devices in the field. Blockchain removes the need for a centralized entity (a healthcare organization, government, etc.) to verify transactions. It also provides a distributed secure framework for any exchange of safety data. This type of framework is not part of a central group “controlling” its accesses and, therefore less likely to be affected by a cyberattack. The nature of the distribution of blockchain could help to maintain PMS (post-market surveillance) data in a more systematic way and provide permanent secure storage of medical device PMS data through new storage solutions which enable users to store that data in a platform that lives forever on a blockchain, all while keeping the speed high and costs low.
Blockchain for Managing Medical and Pharmaceutical Supply Chains
In healthcare supply chain management, blockchain technology transactions are particularly key for tapping into the process of drugs and medical products movement. Since all transactions are recorded onto a ledger, and every node maintains a record of every transaction, it is easy to verify the origin of the drug, the vendor, and the distributor instantly. The distributed ledger of the blockchain also allows healthcare officials and physicians to check and authenticate the legitimacy of suppliers. With more transparent insight into the supply chain through proper and timely authentication processes via consensus algorithms, pharmacies and healthcare providers will be able to ensure that the flow of authentic drugs continues to reach those patients who need them the most, and have records of every checkpoint along the way. In this regard, blockchain technology holds great promise for establishing a trusted network of vendors that allow healthcare administrators to guard patients from disreputable suppliers. Furthermore, the technology also promises significant enhancement of on-demand forecasting, data provenance, fraud prevention, and transaction.
Blockchain itself is still evolving as are its possibilities for innovations. The use cases discussed here are among many others still undiscovered. As professionals in the technology industry, it’s important to consider the possible benefits that new technologies bring. Blockchain is already and will continue representing a key paradigm shift in the way we store, interact, and legitimize our data.
*In simple terms, a private blockchain is a type of blockchain network where only a single authority or organization has control over the network. Even though private blockchain examples may seem like centralized networks, in reality the technology can offer partial decentralization