In this article, we explore how integrating blockchain in healthcare practices can improve the legacy infrastructure. We break down the existing models within the medical industry and evaluate how blockchain can improve workflow efficiencies, patient care, and ultimately, global health. Also, we discuss a variety of Web3 healthcare non-fungible token (NFT) use cases.
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The Future of Web3 Healthcare
Below, we outline ways the existing medical system could improve by integrating blockchain into healthcare infrastructure. From healthcare professionals and hospital supply chains to medical research and patient confidentiality, Web3 healthcare will eradicate existing industry hurdles. As a result, introducing blockchain in healthcare practices could theoretically reduce mortality rates and global health inequalities. Plus, Web3 healthcare can increase accessibility to medical help and improve patient care plans.
It is worth bearing in mind that the blockchain industry is still young. We will likely see the following implementations in Web3 healthcare emerge within the next five to ten years. To achieve this, there must be medical-specific innovations within the blockchain industry to become feasible as a global use case. Additionally, healthcare professionals and patients alike will need education surrounding the cutting-edge technology that improves one’s medical experience. For a deep dive on smart contracts, decentralized applications (dapps), and different types of token standards, see our Ethereum Fundamentals course at Moralis Academy! Or, check out the free Moralis Blog to learn about the latest industry projects. For example, save our “Rust & Solana” or our “Solana vs. NEAR” article for later!
NFT Medical Records
Legacy medical records are stored on siloed databases. Resultantly, communications between various healthcare parties (e.g., doctor’s surgery, local hospital, specialized unit) is incredibly slow and ineffective. This can prove fatal in times of emergencies with an unconscious patient and their medical history scattered across several databases. However, introducing blockchain into healthcare records can ameliorate the disorganization of medical communications. In the future, patients will likely have medical records stored as unique non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on the blockchain.
As a result, a patient’s medical history will be securely accessible and interoperable between a near-infinite amount of healthcare practices. Moreover, for patients in the United Kingdom, NFT patient records could be interoperable between the National Health Service (NHS) and the private medical industry. Each NFT medical record would be unique to the patient, with any new information becoming immutable to their name. Using blockchain in healthcare records means various teams, specialists, and units can access real-time updates instead of waiting to receive an email, fax, or letter in the post from another party before admitting patient treatments.
From a patient’s perspective with numerous health concerns, Web3 healthcare will be a game-changer for communications between departments. Each NFT medical record will be cryptographically secure with a patient private key. Patients can then give their private key to a relevant healthcare professional (HCP). Then, HCPs can gain secure access to a patient’s medical record. Instead of having various pieces of patient data on numerous healthcare databases, NFT patient records would allow for a life-long medical history in one place. In turn, people can travel safer knowing that any doctor in the world could easily access (with permission) a comprehensive medical history to administer safe, effective treatments.
Blockchain in Healthcare Supply Chains
Many industries worldwide operate with a supply chain foundation, and the healthcare industry is no different. A healthcare supply chain comprises numerous components, systems, and processes with the overarching goal of manufacturing, regulating, and distributing healthcare supplies to patients. Everything in use within a medical environment is likely to have arrived via a supply chain action involving numerous parties. This includes stationary, prescriptions, gloves, syringes, surgical instruments, and more. Parties in healthcare supply chains are responsible for maintaining inventory levels and quality control.
In a 2015 interview on the matter, James Spann, Practice Leader of Supply Chain & Logistics at Simpler Healthcare, said, “The challenge for hospitals is to align the supply chain to the care delivery model,”. Integrating blockchain in healthcare supply chains could ameliorate this challenge. As such, healthcare supply chains could be optimized and automated using smart contracts and internet-of-things (IoT) devices. Plus, developers could create an algorithm that would re-analyze the optimal inventory levels in hospitals according to fluctuating sociological factors. For example, this could assist in preparation for flu season, heat strokes, viruses, etc. Also, using blockchain in healthcare supply chains means the movement of items within the supply is fully transparent. Therefore, hospital administrative teams can receive real-time alerts of any unforeseen delays in inventory deliveries (e.g., due to heavy traffic).
Improving Healthcare Standards
Another advantage of combining internet-of-things (IoT) devices and blockchain in healthcare is the improvement of quality control standards and auditing. For example, an IoT device could send data if there is a change in the environmental parameters of sterilized instruments. Plus, this could trigger an alert to inform relevant professionals an item has been compromised. Any time a medical device is used, there would be an immutable record, alerting the relevant parties when equipment needs servicing or replacing. Moreover, a smart contract could automatically trigger an email for an engineer to come out.
IoT healthcare devices are also applicable to the transportation of organs and fluids for transplants and transfusions. For example, an IoT thermometer can monitor the temperature of blood en route. If the temperature rises or falls below a level deemed safe, this could trigger a smart contract to void the order and send out a new batch.
It is not uncommon for a single patient to require treatment and communication with several teams and departments. As already discussed, communications in the existing healthcare system are fragmented and slow. Remodeling interdepartmental communications could drastically improve patient care plans. Moreover, the process of administering a holistic treatment plan would be exponentially faster than existing practices.
Finally, introducing blockchain in the healthcare industry would substantially increase patient confidentiality. Patient confidentiality is critical to effective patient-doctor relationships and often part of successful recoveries. Web3 healthcare records will allow patients to digitally own their medical histories as secure cryptographic tokens. As such, patient data is far less vulnerable to being accessed by bounty programs or manipulated by bad actors.
Web3 Healthcare Insurance
Healthcare insurance is essential for most people worldwide, preventing the substantial expense of medical treatment during emergencies. Private health insurance companies and regulatory agencies work to verify the validity of clients’ claims and determine any reimbursements. Introducing blockchain in healthcare insurance could drastically improve the existing workflow and communications between the relevant parties. Generally speaking, insurance companies will require clients to pay an “excess” amount, and the insurance will pay the relevant medical parties. Alternatively, clients will pay medical bills up-front and then claim back the amount (minus the excess) through the insurance company.
The vast majority of the private health insurance business model can be automated using blockchain, smart contracts, and non-fungible token (NFT) patient records. Further, this would increase cost and time efficiencies, reducing business overheads. In the future, the savings to insurance companies could be passed onto clients reducing the baseline financial requirements for insurance coverage. Additionally, the financial and data transactions between clients, medical teams, and the insurance company would take seconds, not weeks.
Currently, ground-breaking medical research takes approximately 25 to 30 years to go from conception to implementation within existing healthcare practices. This is primarily due to funding issues, regulatory procedures, and inefficient communications between parties involved in the research. Introducing blockchain in medical research will decrease administrative overheads, and the time it takes for patients to receive the latest life-saving treatments. Thus, blockchain in healthcare research has the potential the reduce global mortality rates, health inequalities,
Many scientists across the world are often working hard to discover a treatment for the same disease. As such, any findings or steps forward towards the common goal are kept in a siloed database, unbeknown to any other research team. Blockchain is a globally-distributed public ledger that offers real-time insights into chain activities. A decentralized application (dapp) operating on a blockchain could host a secure communal space for researchers worldwide to consolidate their findings. Resultantly, blockchain technology could facilitate a global research database aggregating world-leading medical innovations and discoveries. Akin to the Web3 ethos, a collaborative approach with like-minded people will yield faster and more effective results than attempting to do things alone.
The speed of data communication and transaction confirmation in blockchain is far superior to any legacy medical infrastructure. In a future of Web3 healthcare, implementing research into existing practices and patient care programs will happen on a regular basis, not once in a generation. With open-source databases and transparent immutable findings, regulatory bodies can audit up-and-coming treatments far more efficiently and accurately than ever before.
Web3 Healthcare Education
As a whole, the healthcare system is facing a crisis with a generational imbalance within medical employees. The baby boomer generation makes up most of the leading doctors’ roles. Moreover, access to finances and educational facilities for studying medicine is becoming more challenging for younger generations. With an anticipated reduction in medical professionals as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, many governments are encouraging as many young people as possible to enter the healthcare industry. Introducing a Web3 healthcare education system could assist with this campaign.
As education becomes more readily available online, we will likely see a shift in how medical students participate in learning activities. For example, education in the metaverse allows for fun, engaging, and interacting learning activities. Medical students could visually observe internal and external kinesiological activities and interact with hypothetical pathologies. Also, the metaverse offers a globally-collaborative learning environment yielding higher chances of cross-cultural health expertise. Blockchain in healthcare education would provide an immutable record of degrees, diplomas, and certifications for graduating professionals. As such, the time it takes for the employment vetting procedure in hospitals and healthcare settings will be drastically lowered.
Reducing Healthcare Inequality
The lessons and adaptations of procedures within the healthcare industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic means online healthcare practices are becoming increasingly commonplace. Moving healthcare facilities online means more people can access critical and potentially life-saving advice. In Web3 healthcare, we could potentially go to ‘visit’ a doctor in the metaverse. Instead of a video call with limited viewing, patients struggling to communicate verbally could point to specific painful body parts on an avatar in the metaverse. Additionally, the potential option of anonymity means more people will likely come forward about health issues they may otherwise have felt too embarrassed to address.
Another aspect of health inequality highlighted by the recent pandemic is the distribution and administration of vaccines. Introducing blockchain in healthcare supply chains and medical research brings the opportunity to reduce global health inequalities. As information becomes more transparent and reliable (due to the immutability of blockchain), it will be easier to identify and prepare for future pandemics. Moreover, the reduction in overheads in research and treatments could (should) be passed on to patients, lowering the financial hurdles to gaining access to medical facilities.
In a future of Web3 healthcare, patients could speak to a doctor online in the comfort of their own homes. Plus, Web3 healthcare would naturally include cryptocurrency as a form of payment. This option could be a life-saving feature for patients living in struggling economies with hyperinflationary local currencies, using crypto as a way to hedge against inflation.
Exploring Blockchain in Healthcare Summary
Introducing blockchain in healthcare infrastructure will transform siloed local databases into a global interoperable network. As a result, communications between different medical environments, teams, and facilities will be near-instant, substantially increasing the efficiency of patient treatment and care plans. Also, with higher auditing of healthcare standards and practices, Web3 healthcare theoretically could reduce mortality rates. Further, this could be for several reasons, including inventory quality control, access to complete medical records, and supply chain management.
Plus, blockchain creates an opportunity for the mainstream integration of ground-breaking research to happen quicker, potentially reducing the mortality rates for varying diseases and conditions. The reduction in the overall cost of medical research and treatment theoretically should reduce the cost to patients. Moreover, patients would have more control over their medical records as individual non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on the blockchain. In the future, Web3 healthcare professionals could do most of their studying online. For example, students could practice practical examinations in the Metaverse before real-life surgery.
However, the industry has a way to go before blockchain in healthcare becomes mainstream. Specifically, there needs to be more developments around decentralized identities, interoperable NFT standards, and scalable healthcare-centric blockchain networks capable of mass utility. Additionally, there needs to be more education around the utility and potential of blockchain technology.
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