Blockchain is a computer networking technology that creates a complete, immutable record of transactions that have been made and shares it in real time among all participants in a network. Satoshi Nakamoto first used the term blockchain in a 2008 paper that described the concept of blocks of encrypted data linked through a networked chain and created the cryptocurrency called Bitcoin as the first use of the concept the following year. Since then, much work has been done on blockchain technology, and many companies have been formed to utilize it or facilitate its use through blockchain platforms. Blockchain also has many applications outside of cryptocurrencies, especially other financial technology applications.
The concept has many potential uses related to food, such as providing detailed information regarding all transactions in a food supply chain from the source to the end user, enabling transparency, traceability, rapid determination of the cause of a foodborne illness outbreak or food fraud, and other purposes, including financial and marketing opportunities such as substantiation of product claims. It has the potential to directly connect all participants in the food supply chain, including farmers, processors, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and regulators with a shared immutable view of their transaction history. It can also connect consumers to information about the foods they consume.
- Since blockchain enables secure and rapid transactions, the pharmaceutical industry is leveraging its capabilities to improve the supply chain
- Among the top use cases of blockchain in pharmaceuticals include manufacturing supply chain, drug safety, and Inventory management
- The technology also promises the potential for faster delivery of safe medications and meeting government requirements at the same time
Blockchain has been serving as a disruptive technology within most industries that have increasingly embraced it over the past decade. But only when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, it became clearer that the global supply chain within the pharmaceutical industry is lacking the connectivity and data exchange that can ostensibly be resolved with blockchain technology.
Blockchain is a distributed, decentralized, and digitized ledger of transactions that records data in a way that prevents hacking and data altercation. Most people associate blockchain technology with the volatile nature of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The disruptive technology, however, has more to it.
How blockchain can make AI tech not just safer, but better
Statistics suggest that worldwide spending on blockchain solutions is expected to grow from US$1.5 billion in 2018 to an estimated US$5.9 billion by 2023. Data shows that the financial sector accounts for over 60% of the market value of blockchain worldwide in 2018, but the technology has spread to nearly every industry from healthcare to agriculture.
Why pharma is moving towards blockchain
When cracks started appearing in the early days of the pandemic, after China switched off the lights and manufacturing largely ground to a halt, that is when the healthcare industry realized the urgency to improve the global supply chain. Supply chains across the globe started crumbling when border closures around the world took place, followed by reduced workforces, and an insatiable demand started growing internationally for goods and services that were suddenly not as available as usual.
Blockchain as a technology is crucial since it provides traceability in product lifecycles by relating data, propagating it, and distributing it securely throughout the organization. It is especially important among highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals. This industry requires transparency in its activities like clinical trials, supply chain control as it scales up, product validation, and quality assurance unit the final approved product is commercialized.
The primary use for blockchain within the pharma industry, according to KPMG analyst Arun Ghosh, is to serve as a “ledger of truth” for sharing complex information with regulators, pharmacy benefit managers, contract manufacturers, physicians, patients, academic researchers, and R&D collaborators, among others.
What’s in store for blockchain in 2021?
Hence, given the ability of the technology to enable secure and rapid transactions around the world, much of the efforts in the pharmaceutical industry to leverage its capabilities are focused on improving the supply chain. In fact, three of the biggest pharmaceutical conglomerates – Pfizer, Amgen, and Sanofi – are working side-by-side to find the most effective ways to utilize blockchain technology, from storing safe data to speeding up clinical trials and ultimately lowering drug development costs.
Beyond Covid-19 and vaccinations, the technology can be used to give more confidence in the privacy of information in clinical trials, which will open the door for people to trust in providing more information. This can also lead to shorter cycles for drug development and discovery. A BioMed Central report touches on how the reproducibility of clinical research studies has been an issue for quite some time and using blockchain technology can combine privacy with secure, decentralized tracking of all data.
Here are five ways blockchain can benefit healthcare:
1.) Single, longitudinal patient records
Longitudinal patient records- compiling episodes, disease registries, lab results, treatments- can be achieved through blockchain, including inpatient, ambulatory and wearable data- assisting providers in coming up with better ways of delivering care.
2.) Master patient indices
Often when dealing with healthcare data, records get mismatched or duplicated. Also, different EHRs have a different schema for every single field- coming up with different ways of entering and manipulating the simplest of data sets. With blockchain, the entire data set is hashed to a ledger, and not just the primary key. The user would look for the address- there can be multiple addresses and multiple keys, but they will all yield to a single patient identification.
3.) Claims adjudication
Since blockchain works on a validation-based exchange, the claims can be automatically verified where the network agrees upon the way a contract is executed. Also, since there is no central authority, there would be fewer errors or frauds.
4.) Supply chain management
Blockchain-based contracts can assist healthcare organizations in monitoring supply-demand cycles through its entire lifecycle- how is the transaction taking place, whether the contract is successful, or if there are any delays.
Interoperability, the very promise of blockchain, can be realized by the use of sophisticated APIs to make EHR interoperability and data storage a reliable process. With blockchain network being shared with authorized providers in a secure and standardized way, that would eliminate the cost and burden associated with data reconciliation.
Other than these, blockchain can transform revenue cycle management, drug supply management, clinical trials and prevent frauds.
The road ahead
Majorly, blockchain’s potential for healthcare depends on how willing healthcare organizations are to create the required technical infrastructure. Blockchain is costly, there are some concerns regarding its integration with the existing technology, and there certainly is speculation about its cultural adoption.
But one thing is for sure- blockchain has taken healthcare by storm over the past year, and there are significant investments for blockchain. With such wide-ranging possibilities, it is no surprise blockchain seems poised to one of the key pillars in the digital world. And maybe someday, it will transform the big data landscape.