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Can Blockchains Ignite a New Health Information Narrative?

The seamless flow of health information is often cited as a key factor in the effective engagement between patients and their health providers. Unfortunately, today’s healthcare markets have lagged behind on this measure amid legacy IT systems that are slow, archaic and siloed.

Of course, healthcare delivery systems face enormous obstacles in the sharing of medical data while ensuring data integrity and patient privacy. Patient visits to a new doctor result in a mound of paperwork to complete, information that typically exists in a digital format and could be sent electronically. As a result, the existing landscape has become highly fragmented and ill-equipped for the needs of today’s users.

Fostering a new narrative in this space is therefore predicated on the development of a trusted digital environment that allows the gathering, secure storage and exchange of health data. The goal: to make electronic medical records more efficient, while empowering patients to own and control access to their own information.

It’s here that blockchain technology has received significant attention as a potential solution, one that could ultimately lead to greater efficiencies as well as a reduction in costs to health providers and patients alike. In this case, a blockchain’s distributed ledger would allow for decentralized, patient-to-provider engagement to be recorded and verified without a third-party intermediary. Cryptographic algorithms would maintain immutable records of everything, ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the data.

Reshaping the Paradigm

One promising project at the epicenter of the data providence movement is Medicalchain, a platform that aims to employ blockchain technology to improve health record storage. This startup company aims to develop a network solution that gives physicians, hospitals, laboratories, research organizations and health insurers the ability to request permission to access a patient’s record in order to deliver healthcare services and record transactions on the ledger.

This concept is fueled by a decentralized platform that facilitates the secure, fast and transparent exchange and usage of medical data. Blockchain technology is then utilized to create a user-focused electronic health record, maintaining a single true version of the user’s data through the care lifecycle.

Medicalchain is the brainchild of Dr. Abdullah Albeyatti, a physician graduate of Imperial College London, and Mohammed Tayeb, a veteran technology entrepreneur. It makes use of Hyperledger Fabric, built by the Linux Foundation in collaboration with a few companies, including IBM. Because Medicalchain is built on the permission-based Hyperledger architecture, it can allow varying levels of access. Users will be able to control who can view their records, how much others can see and for what period of time they will be able to do so. 

Medicalchain’s health-enterprise-based solution, which has been in development since early 2016, has made substantial progress to this point. Medicalchain has successfully deployed a blockchain proof of concept that facilitates the storage and use of health data, as well as integrated wearable technology data into a user’s electronic health record. As the project continues to advance, more digital health services will be added to Medicalchain. Users will then be able to sign up for these applications powered by their health data and secured by smart contracts.

Two Medicalchain applications are currently in progress: The first is a doctor-to-patient telemedicine app through which users will be able to consult a real doctor remotely on their phones for a small fee payable directly to the doctor. A health data “share space” is also being developed, which will enable users to contribute their health data to medical research, in exchange for a reward. 

In the coming months, Medicalchain hopes to work with several partners on pilot programs and is looking for nonprofit healthcare institutions to host nodes for the deployment of its global healthcare data blockchain. Medicalchain is focused on designing the system based on input from the user community. Eighteen-month beta trials will occur to test user experience across a range of healthcare settings. An international pilot is due to commence following the release of the beta system in February. 

“Blockchain technology is set to change the way healthcare is managed forever,” said Tayeb. “It allows clinicians and patients alike to be confident that the medical records are accurate and up-to-date as the distributed ledger guarantees an incorruptible, trustless version of the data which can be depended upon at any given time. An indisputable single version of the truth is not achievable with today’s current systems and infrastructure. We are seeking to change that.”

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