Blockchain – a potential disruption agent in the healthcare industry

Do the buzzwords ‘bitcoin’ and ‘crypto tokens’ sound familiar? They do, right? Considering the gigantic impetus that several cryptocurrencies have triggered in recent times, chances are high that you came across such terminology on social media or your daily newsfeed. It certainly takes a lot of resources to keep track of the plethora of innovative start-ups that either launched or are on the verge of releasing their very own utility tokens. According to the Wallstreet Journal (5), the total value of initial coin offerings (ICOs) in 2017 surged past the 4 billion-dollar mark. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that people are dazzled by the addictive cryptocurrency trading and, consequently, neglect the underlying mathematical blockchain system. Put simply, a blockchain is a “type of shared distributed digital ledger” (1) that is made up of ‘blocks’ of data that are connected in a sequential chain-like manner according to their existence in time. Such a ‘chain’ cannot be modified in retrospect and, thus, facilitates a “robust method of confirming data integrity as well as a permanent log of all events undergone” (1).


The emerging state-of-the-art blockchain technology is increasingly paving its way into different industries and will eventually cause major disruption if all its advantages can be harnessed effectively. In this respect, the realm of healthcare is not excluded. A handful of potential opportunities and obstacles coming with the fusion of healthcare with the above-mentioned decentralized peer-to-peer technology can be identified and, undoubtedly, the blockchain will revolutionize and drastically enhance many domains within the health industry.


To begin with, deploying a blockchain in pharmaceutical supply chains would make drugs more traceable and increase the integrity of verifying and authenticating drugs. Nowadays, the pharmaceutical market is flooded with vast amounts of counterfeiters that negatively influence patients’ safety and pulling all information surrounding medication onto the blockchain would play a vital role in fighting the circulation of fraudulent drugs.


Furthermore, a shared ledger enables a seamless and more efficient exchange of information among the patients, providers of health care and doctors. This would ultimately reduce overhead costs and make it simpler to keep track of insurance coverage. Much of the administration work could be rendered redundant in an automatic operating environment that essentially “allows data transition between related parties in an efficient, consensus-based, seamless manner” (3).


Most importantly, the blockchain will democratize the control over data access and empower patients with the ability to authorize information sharing. As of now, electronic health records (EHR), a “digital version of a patient’s medical history” (4), are stored individually by various health care providers and hospitals in a way that makes the facilitation of trusted data exchange difficult for all users of EHR. However, if an individual’s EHR was put on a distributed ledger, transferring and accessing health records would become more interoperable and secure as the patient is the ultimate guardian of her/his irrevocable ‘health ledger’. “Protected at the individual patient level with a numeric public key, and/or a more complex privacy key” (4), doctors, insurance companies and research institutions would require the consent of individuals in order to view and edit health records. Put simply, the blockchain will facilitate secure and consensus-based health management in which individuals are “providing access to doctors when they need it, while simultaneously protecting data from unauthorized users” (3).


Unfortunately, in today’s world, we are still facing challenges in making the blockchain technology commercially viable and available to consumers on an industry-wide basis. One of the major issues that slow down the extent of disruption in the health care industry concerns the management and governance of shared ledger systems. Hospitals and other health organizations must reach consensus on how to incorporate their data systems, who hosts and runs the decentralized ledger system as well as what kind of health records should be stored and shared. Only if health care providers and care professionals can settle these issues regarding the interoperability of different information systems and the reliability of particular health data, the blockchain technology can live up to people’s expectation and change the health care industry to the better.


One can surely say that the health care industry will experience an upheaval through the blockchain technology. Even though blockchain technology is still in its infancy, it is obvious how its intrinsic mechanisms and values have the capability to enhance and disrupt the many domains in the health sector. To reach the blockchain’s full potential, further actions such as increased funding and research need to be taken by policymakers and health care providers. If the health sector is provided with the right incentives to adopt blockchain solutions it will only be a matter of time until decentralized ledgers become omnipresent.





All references retrieved on 7th July 2018.


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