It is an exciting time for delivery of healthcare due to the surge of blockchain. Blockchain is a technology of storage and transmission of information. It is transparent and functions without a central control organ. The strengths of a blockchain system lie in its data integrity and networked immutability. Every computer in the distributed network maintains a copy of the ledger to prevent a single point of failure. All copies are updated and validated simultaneously as well. The data is controlled by the users and no third-party or central regulatory agency rules the system.

Growing market

The global blockchain technology market is expected to grow and hit more than 2.3 billion USD in 2021 worldwide from 210.2 million USD in 2016 at a CAGR of 61.5%. Factors such as population health data availability, fraud, abuse, privacy and security are driving the performance of this market. The global blockchain market can be segmented into 4 regions: United States, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the rest of the world. The United States is dominating the blockchain landscape with more than 30% of the market share. The success here stems from the early adoption of the technology and the existence of a great ecosystem with the surge of start-ups. The emergence of internet economy and the necessity to secure operation will help Asia-Pacific to be the fastest-growing region worldwide with a CAGR of more than 45% in the next five years.

Countering counterfeit drugs

The exploitation fields of blockchain are immense and solutions have been deployed across various industries. Healthcare is one of these sectors. The impact on care delivery can be tremendous through supply chain, clinical trial and security.

Blockchain has a critical role to play in drugs supply chain due to the surge of counterfeit products. Counterfeit medicines are a global public health risk. For patients, this raises concerns about safety and translates into a reduction of drugs adherence. It also leads to a clear loss of revenue and confidence in healthcare providers and health systems. Counterfeit drugs can kill the incentive to invest in innovation, research and development. In developing countries 10%–30% of medicines sold are counterfeit and one percent in developed nations. The global market for counterfeit drug is 200 billion USD.

Blockchain can increase drug traceability by tracking all the transactions of all the stakeholders: drug manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacists and patients. Additionally, it can even secure drug information which is important to tackle counterfeit drugs issues. By enabling equal visibility of activities and revealing where an asset is at the given point in time, who owns it and what condition it is in, blockchain enforces traceability and transparency. Blockchain enables the identification of the party responsible for introducing counterfeit products into the supply chain.

Protecting data from hackers

The surge of technological innovations in the healthcare landscape and the global hacking attack highlighted the need for health data security for all types of organisation. Moreover, electronic data is now becoming more increasingly available than ever before. Therefore, it is crucial to find efficient and secure ways to use it. For example, the United Kingdom health service faced a chaotic weekend after hackers, demanding ransom, infiltrated the health service’s antiquated computer system. Operations and appointments were cancelled and ambulances were diverted as up to 40 hospital trusts became infected by a “ransomware” attack, demanding payment to regain access to vital medical records.

Blockchain will enable only authorized personnel to have access to information. Patients will be able to give and deny access to the healthcare professionals. This will help ensure a higher level of privacy. Blockchain will ease the exchange of information as data sharing has become crucial. Furthermore, patients would not need to gather their records from different healthcare professionals and send them to the new physician. Blockchain will provide the new physician access to the patient’s medical history as had been known to the preceding healthcare professional.

Managing data for clinical trials

Blockchain provides a novel technological solution to the data manipulation problem through smart contracts. It acts as trusted administrators and provides an immutable record of trial history. Smart contracts help exchange property, shares, or anything of value in a transparent and conflict-free manner while avoiding the services of a middleman. Blockchain will usher in a paradigm shift to the entire field of clinical research by bringing transparency for patients and traceability for stakeholders. For example, patient consent will be stored and tracked in a secure and unfalsifiable way which will enable information sharing in real time and prevent a posteriori reconstruction. Through blockchain, a significant level of history and inviolability of data for the whole document flow in a clinical trial will be attained. This becomes possible due to blockchain’s ability to manage complex data flow. Blockchain can help in bringing in more efficiency and trust in the health system by improving clinical research.

Issues to be tackled

In order to make the most of this new technology, all stakeholders must first tackle some issues. First, pertains to the lack of investment which is important to boost blockchain’s development. Secondly, patients and healthcare professionals need to be made aware of the benefits of blockchain and trained in its use to strengthen its adoption. Finally, all technology providers must work closely with the government to create trust among the stakeholders. Every country’s regulations must be directed towards supporting the interest of the patients and the development of blockchain. In spite of the challenges ahead, blockchain is a great opportunity for increasing the delivery of healthcare in a trusting, secure and transparent way.