New Delhi: Public health as a subject is of prime importance to every nation. Especially, India with its 1.4 billion population faces an uphill task in providing universal and affordable healthcare. Without leveraging technology at scale, such aspirations will only remain a pipe dream. Importantly, the COVID pandemic has shown the world that technology can not only be a great enabler but also be the very backbone of the public health delivery system. Successful tracking of patients & vaccination of citizens by India apart from issuing digital certificates through the CoWIN app is a case in point. In recent years, emerging technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence), ML (machine learning), and big data have made inroads into the healthcare sector. Increasingly, blockchain– which is more discussed concerning the financial sector- has also made its presence felt in the healthcare sector. Importantly, features of blockchain technology make it suitable for wide usage in healthcare projects that are getting executed at scale.
Distinct features of blockchain:
Blockchain as a technology is endowed with those features which make it suitable for being used in the healthcare sector in multiple ways. Starting from drug research & discovery to keeping records of patient’s medical history, blockchain can improve efficiency across the sector. Firstly, blockchain is a form of decentralised ledger technology that enables the secure storage and transmission of data. Here, each transaction is recorded across each node on the network. Therefore, no record can be changed without altering any subsequent blocks in the chain. This makes the whole system tamper-proof. Secondly, such decentralisation of data recording provides security and stability to the information stored. Data privacy and security are ensured owing to these features. This is critical as data ownership and management remains in the hand of a few. As healthcare supply chains are complex, blockchain-powered solutions provide much-needed financial and logistical traceability.Benefits of blockchain in healthcare:
The benefits of blockchain in healthcare are many. Blockchain-led solutions are now being leveraged in the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare delivery through both public and private institutions, public policy making, and control of pandemic-like situations among others. Its uses in India are immense as the country takes several initiatives to improve its healthcare delivery system.
A country like India faces a serious shortage of healthcare officials including doctors. Every allopathic doctor in India provides healthcare to at least 1,511 people, much higher than the World Health Organization’s norm of one doctor for every 1,000 people. The shortage of trained nurses is even worse with a nurse-to-population ratio of 1:670 against the WHO norm of 1:300. For ensuring access to quality healthcare, the Indian government has been running telemedicine programme ‘eSanjeevani’ apart from launching Tele-MANAS in the mental wellness space. Not only government institutions, but a large number of private healthcare providers have also been providing telehealth facilities to patients. Blockchain-powered solutions can be a game-changer in the telehealth space as they will record all the information related to the patient that can be accessed by multiple doctors at every stage of treatment. Similarly, it will help doctors and other healthcare officials to access the patient’s record every time he/she goes for a consultation. So, better healthcare delivery at scale is possible by leveraging blockchain technology.
Moreover, blockchain solutions can verify the credentials of healthcare professionals in India. The country has seen multiple instances of fake doctors and quacks treating patients, leading to fatal consequences. An earlier report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) had put 57 per cent of Indian doctors to be quacks with most coming from rural regions. In this context, healthcare delivery in rural areas can vastly improve by leveraging blockchain technology.
Efficient immunisation programme:
Universal Immunisation Programme is one of the world’s largest such initiatives, which is run in India. Such programmes have massive amounts of records generated and stored. For instance, the successful polio immunisation programme under National Health Mission generates a huge amount of data, which is extensively monitored, analysed, and reported upon for demonstrating its coverage. Similarly, other immunisation programmes such as vaccination for Yellow Fever are tracked through issuing vaccination cards. However, such tracking and analysis are done through paper-based record-keeping. This leads to the possibility of losing the data. Such practice is also seen as one factor behind the universal immunisation programme not covering all its intended beneficiaries. Therefore, a digital health record is the need of the hour. In this regard, blockchain-powered solutions can be leveraged by the government and private agencies to create digital health records of all eligible beneficiaries. Such digital health records can also be created for every citizen of the country to create a depository.
Hearteningly, the Indian government is in the process of creating digital health records through its initiatives including ‘Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission’ (ABDM) and ‘Ayushman Bharat Health Account’ (ABHA) numbers. Hopefully, blockchain-powered solutions will be leveraged to make these initiatives successful.
Supplement policy making:
In a country like India with a huge population, a targeted approach towards various disease incidences is required. This can be achieved if the right policy and subsequent interventions are done on a timely basis. However, the delivery of good public health service is dependent on the timely availability of good data along with the ability to authenticate the sources of the data. Since health surveillance and monitoring require cross-sectoral data correlation, the inclusion of blockchain technology to anchor records can create better outcomes for both the state and its citizens.
Apart from these benefits, blockchain-backed implementation for health records ensures data privacy and security as the data is subject to more control with restricted access. This technology can also be used to reduce healthcare costs by automating many data recordings and related tasks. For a country like India, blockchain-led solutions are the best tools to ensure healthcare delivery at scale. Hearteningly, many global and domestic organisations have already started rolling out blockchain-powered solutions in the healthcare sector. As the adoption rises, global blockchain technology in the healthcare market is projected to touch $16.30 billion by 2031 from $532 million in 2021.
Though blockchain use cases are rising in the healthcare sector, risks remain. Privacy and confidentiality of patients’ data remain sacrosanct and it should be protected at every cost. Therefore, access and control of blockchain-based systems should be restricted apart from proper implementation. From this perspective, institutions and enterprises should collaborate with the right technology partner for harnessing the true potential of blockchain in the healthcare sector.
Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay, Vice-President Customer Experience at Dhiway
(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are sole of the author and ETHealthworld does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHealthworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.)