Blockchain Technology and Healthcare

The industry recognizes that blockchain technology is a game changer because it can save both doctors and patients hassle.


By Alexandra Perry

When I was in college, I nearly died from appendicitis.

I know what you’re thinking: Who actually dies from appendicitis?

Within a day, my stomachache transformed from annoying to agonizing. I ended up driving myself to the E.R. around 2 a.m., thinking that once I got to the hospital the pain would be over.

Sadly, it turns out that most people who do are like I was at the time: a broke young person who decided to ignore some stomach pain.

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I was very wrong.

Once in the E.R, I was badgered with questions, dosed with painkillers, and rolled on a gurney through multiple test rooms.

By the time I was diagnosed, my appendix had perforated. Every second wasted was a second closer to a life-threatening situation.

Looking back on that event, I realize the situation was not the doctor’s fault. As an ignorant 20-year-old with no knowledge of my own health information, I was equally responsible.

I couldn’t answer questions that would have allowed doctors to save my life. Beyond that, I was also disoriented and unable to provide them with details on symptoms, pain level, and activities.

If there were an easy way for doctors to access this information, the whole debacle would have unfolded differently.

And that is just one of the reasons the medical system needs blockchain technology.

Blockchain Can Help Both Patients and Doctors

If the story of how I lost my appendix demonstrated anything — outside of making you laugh at my medical incompetence — it should have been how badly we need innovation in health care(NYSEARCA:XLH).

And I’m certainly not the first person to say that.

Individuals from all facets of the health care industry — from doctors to insurance providers — are waking up to the possibilities of blockchain technology. Over the last year, blockchain has become such a hot topic that the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMMS) hosted a blockchain-specific symposium at its Orlando 2017 conference.

The industry recognizes that blockchain technology is a game changer because it can save both doctors and patients hassle.

Let me lay out a scenario for you.

Just imagine you woke up in the dead of night short of breath and with a strange numbness creeping up your arm. You hurry to the nearest E.R., where a nurse scans a medical ID you carry in your wallet. This ID contains your blockchain ID number and gives the doctor trying to diagnose you access to your complete medical history. There is no paperwork or waiting.

Better yet, your family and primary care physician are notified of your status and location within seconds of the nurse scanning your ID.

This is possible because of something called smart contracts, which are instructions built into the code of a blockchain. These instructions dictate that if one action happens, another should immediately follow.

When the nurse scanned your ID card, he or she started the notification process. No other manpower was necessary. You can see how this will be useful in an emergency or to help doctors collaborate.

And blockchain doesn’t just help in emergency situations. It could also help doctors with preventative medicine, saving more lives.

Blockchain Technology Can Better Medical Research

Almost everyone in the healthcare industry gets thwarted by the same question: How do we use and protect sensitive patient information?

If doctors and researchers had access to a database of patient data, they could more effectively study diseases. But because of HIPPA’s protected health information and federal laws, it is challenging to share patient data even if the two doctors sharing the data are seeing the same patient. And of course, ethically, doctors shouldn’t just be broadcasting patient information. It’s private and should be protected if ever utilized.

And that is where blockchain comes in.

The medical community could build HIPPA-compliant blockchains to store patient information.

Through this kind of system, patients could also potentially monetize data by offering it up for clinical study. Doctors would have an easier time accessing patient information across borders. It would be easier to secure and protect sensitive patient information.

The two topics we mentioned are big conversation starters in the medical community.

And luckily for medicine, there are already some smart companies trying to fix those problems.

So Which Companies Are Fixing Health Care?

It’s easy to locate some of the companies leading the charge into the medical blockchain space.

These companies are diverse, with some coming onto the market through initial coin offerings and others through initial public offerings. For the sake of this article, I’m only going to name a few.

Factom: Factom is a technology company that focuses on producing blockchain technology that facilitates better data processing, ultimately helping individuals make better decisions. Factom received $8 million in a Series A funding in April 2017. Before that, the company was given a grant by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop infrastructure for medical records. Currently, you can only invest in Factom through its digital token, which is available on Poloniex and a few other digital currency exchanges.

IBM Blockchain on Bluemix: IBM is a giant in just about every industry, and when it comes to blockchain, it is leading the pack. IBM Blockchain is the first managed service for Hyperledger Fabric. Basically that means IBM makes blockchains that can be used by businesses in multiple sectors. Health care is one such sector. In August 2016, IBM won the HHS Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology’s blockchain health IT ideation challenge by writing a paper that described the how blockchains could resolve a wide range of health care issues.

Those are just two examples of companies that are busy tackling some of the healthcare issues we discussed through blockchain.

Of course, both IBM and Factom are out of the bag.

But if you are interested in learning more about how to profit from companies in their infant stages, I encourage you to check out our free digital currency and blockchain education service. You can learn more about that service here.

I look forward to chatting with you in the third installment of our blockchain series, which will deal with identity and cybersecurity.

To find the first installment of our blockchain education series, click here.