Amid the popularity of worldwide travel, a growing number of people are aligning their trips with healthcare services. The basis of this movement is known as medical tourism.
This is a concept in which people travel outside of their home country to obtain medical treatment that is often cheaper and of higher quality. Whether cosmetic surgery, dental implants, a joint replacement or other medical services, this trend signals a new normal in the globalization of health care.
Fueled by the burgeoning global demand for these services, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is rapidly emerging as the epicenter of this new trend, known as “Blockchain-Centric Medical Tourism.”
Sands of Change
Dubai is on a quest to build a world-class reputation as the global hub for medical care. And for good reason, given that the country’s geographic location and inbound travel accessibility make it a convenient option for all parts international.
Through a collaboration between blockchain development firm Guardtime, Emirates Integrated Telecomunications Company and NMC Healthcare in Dubai, blockchain technology is being tested in the country for improved data integrity, security and patient trust in electronic health records sharing among health providers. The ultimate goal? To ensure a comprehensive repository of electronic health records as part of the UAE’s broader aim of securing all government records via the blockchain by 2020.
This initiative is seen as a potential solution to a prevailing issue in Dubai’s current medical ecosystem, namely, that most hospitals don’t have shared access to patient records (an issue shared around the world). This poses an inconvenience to the patient in addition to being a time-consuming hurdle for physicians and other clinical practitioners.
Use of blockchain to facilitate the unobstructed flow of health information will allow patients to consult any doctor in the NMC system with ease and efficiency. It will also assist NMC in managing a health crisis like a disease outbreak with data analytics and other measurement tools.
Addressing Travel Emergencies
Blockchain and medical tourism aside, it is a common challenge for consumers to utilize hospital services in foreign countries during emergencies. Lacking any health records on the individual, health clinicians are placed in a compromising situation that may result in subpar care or even harm. It’s here where blockchain technology is seen as a potential solution to facilitate access to a patient’s records in emergency situations.
This timeliness of medical record access is seen as critical to the delivery of quality care management and, ultimately, a tool that can save lives. Moreover, the blockchain has the ability to record vital documentation on who has access to the record and what procedures were done. It could also provide consumers with a means for self-designating the type of care they want — including advance directives and do-not-resuscitate orders.
Paging Dr. Rapke
Tal Rapke, a former practicing physician turned medical entrepreneur, has a wealth of perspective on this growing intersection between blockchain technology and global health. Informed by his twenty years of health expertise across Australia, Asia and the U.S., as well as stints as a hospital-based medical doctor in rural Kenya, Rapke believes the biggest global health challenge involves helping people better self-manage their health conditions.
“The only real way we can manage healthcare costs is by ensuring that patients have the information, the knowledge and digital support to help them self manage,” Rapke said. “Examining all of this is how I stumbled upon the blockchain. I then began looking at what sort of technologies might help us move toward a place where patients truly have access to their own data and are able to move to a place of self management, all with appropriate support from clinicians and others in the healthcare space.”
Rapke went on to discuss the collaborative potential of blockchain technology in the medical space.
“So when a person has a very rare condition, if you can find a way to give a medical expert that exists in another country access to that data remotely, you start to open up a more expansive global healthcare system that enables people to reach the right doctor or the right care at the right time,” he said. “That, to me, is a game changer.”
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