Data breaches are the nightmare of every major industry. When they occur, the aftermath costs of fixing the problem can be huge. According to a global study conducted by IBM and Ponemon Institute, in 2017 the cost of a data breach that occured in a major company averaged $3.62 million.
The healthcare industry suffers the highest toll in terms of the cost of breaches, being about $380 per single compromised patient record, which is 2.5 times the global average when compared to other industries.
The other major issue with healthcare is that it is a heavily regulated industry in terms of privacy, and for good reason. Personal healthcare information, along with all of the other data therein (birthdates, social security numbers, payment data, etc.) should be some of the most highly protected information on the planet, according to Jack Liu, CEO of ALLIVE, an intelligent healthcare ecosystem based on blockchain technology that provides encrypted health profile, personal AI doctor and comprehensive healthcare services.
The balancing act of accessibility versus security
Patients are taking more control over their health care needs, and the industry has responded by setting up database systems (EHR/EMR) that hold individual healthcare records. Patients can now access their data stored by healthcare providers with a username and password. Also, there’s Olife–one of the three components of ALLIVE–which gives people back control of their personal health data by encrypting and storing them on the blockchain. In the name of transparency this is a good thing.
At the same time, healthcare providers want to be able to share individual patient information among themselves when that becomes necessary e.g. when a patient is transferred to another institution. To this end, the U.S. government has even provided over $1.2 billion in funding to healthcare providers who work toward consolidated records on patients, so that there is a single “file” to which all individual practitioners have access. This is efficient and ensures that no condition, medication, etc. is overlooked as treatment protocols are implemented.
But with all of this consolidation and storage in cyberspace comes the clear threat of breaches. And the healthcare industry must look to innovative and more secure methods of both storage and transmission. The answer may very well lie in blockchain technology.
The promise of blockchain for the healthcare industry
While most associate blockchain technology with cryptocurrency, its use for a surprising number of industries is now being explored and implemented. Why? Because information and data are stored in immutable ‘blocks’ that cannot be altered and cannot be accessed without key codes provided to those who have permissioned access to the data.
The implications for the healthcare industry are pretty clear. Here are just a few examples of how exactly blockchain can improve data security.
1. Immutable and traceable patient records
According to Liu, “If patient records are recorded and stored in a blockchain-based system, they are secure and unalterable. Patients can grant permission to healthcare providers to access those records and to package new records into blocks that will become part of a permanent history of that patient.”
This all means that there is no more transmission of records via traditional means – means that leave themselves open to theft. A single irresponsible employee who has left their computer open to a breach and who holds medical records can mean that an entire database can be breached. If those records are entered into a blockchain and not held locally, however, that event cannot occur.
2. Reduction of pharmaceutical fraud/theft
Pharma companies need to track the movement of their drugs, especially controlled substances, from manufacture to end points in the supply chain. When blockchain is implemented, there is a full record of the transport of such drugs, leaving far less chance for them to be stolen at points of transfer. And recipients of such drugs know exactly where they came from and how they got to their endpoints. The implications for the reduction in drug counterfeiting are clear.
3. Improved data exchanges in clinical trials
It takes a long time for drugs to receive approval – years, actually. When studies are conducted globally, there is no method by which those studies can be collated into a single database. “Blockchain would mean that results of clinical trials can be securely consolidated and efficacy demonstrated,” Liu said.
4. Lack of insurance fraud
Insurance fraud is a major concern and it’s a crime. It occurs when dishonest providers and patients submit claims/information to receive payable benefits. There is billing for services not really performed; there is the falsification of a patient’s medical condition to justify tests; there is upcoding and kickbacks, etc. All of these things bring up the costs of healthcare insurance for everyone. For instance, Medicare fraud in the U.S. alone costs about $60 billion a year.
“A blockchain environment can eliminate a large portion of this fraud when providers and patients must enter their information and data to be verified, recorded and stored and health insurance companies must have access to that data,” Liu said.
No system is foolproof. But the traditional systems that are being used in healthcare today are woefully lacking in the security that could be available. The stakes of security beaches are high – not just in monetary costs and losses to industry providers but to patients whose personal information is at risk. Blockchain technology holds a great deal of promise for the healthcare industry, and it is time for all providers and researchers to explore the potential.
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