Every winter, the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom is in crisis – in fact, one could argue that the NHS is constantly in crisis. The situation simply becomes more acute in winter due to higher demands on the system. In a nutshell, this problem happens because the ongoing and rising demand for healthcare is greater than the system’s ability to provide for it.
Growing demands on the NHS come out of a plethora of sources. Europe is currently undergoing a demographic shift towards fewer babies being born and also have a greater proportion of elderly people, with complex diseases and hence often very expensive medicines and treatments. Meanwhile, medical professionals are dissatisfied with their working conditions, patients feel powerless when it comes to getting their needs met and the overall effect is a lot of suffering.
The solution – Blockchain
It is perhaps of no surprise that other countries are looking at utilizing blockchain for their own health needs. In the US, with ever growing medical costs, steps are being offered to establish a platform where patients, doctors and clinics can connect worldwide.
So what can technologies like blockchain do to help NHS? Its remedy does not certainly include only the structural changes described above, but also to solve a lot of problems created by the old fashioned and inefficient process, which stem from the lack of long term financial investment in the system.
Typical problems faced by doctors and patients alike include excess paperwork, frequently lost test results, lack of coherence between different parts of the system; the burden of compliance with regulation; and perhaps most importantly, not much empowerment for patients when things don’t work.
The properties of blockchain technology make it well suited to fixing some of these challenges. Put simply, blockchain is just a way of securely keeping track, in a chronological order. The network is distributed in multiple places; for example, to all the people involved in the network from systems like surgeries, hospitals or clinics could see the same information on the network at the same time. All participants have access to an identical, shared history of events that cannot be changed.
Blockchain could also help with workforce issues like not having to keep re-doing compliance documentation for staff. A huge amount of time and resources are wasted by HR departments on compiling documentation for short-term staff who then move on after a few months in the job. These cost savings alone could be huge. Blockchain also provides patient based services that may keep patients out of hospitals by allowing them to upload their personal health data electronically for the doctor to monitor accordingly.
Why NHS should follow the US healthcare model
In the US, medicare services are being now reconsidered at state level and many new parameters have been taken up to revolutionize medical services to the public. Companies such as Medipedia have become involved into blockchain application for health care. They have become subject to great traction ahead of their pronounced token sale in October which certainly serves as a mechanism to be followed suit by NHS.
The following benefits in services are there to be achieved.
- No more extensive waiting
The NHS is well aware that linking with other countries can often be more cost effective than allowing long wait times. As the health care service faces a shortage in facilities and doctors, the months spent waiting mean that patients could develop complications and add to the burdens in corresponding treatment.To keep with its mantra ‘free at the point of use’, alternative solutions must be found. With a system such as Medipedia, users would be able to locate good doctors through the information on the site such as success rates or career progression.
- Affordable care ensured
The NHS is moving forward, but unfortunately it is at a snails pace. With additional costs for priority treatment slowly edging into the system, this portal could effectively allow patients to choose for themselves. They might prefer a long wait at home, or decide to pay a small fee for treatment abroad. In this regard, a trial with France has already been established, but for countries like Thailand and Vietnam where services are more affordable, things remain uncertain.By integrating a system such as Medipedia, the NHS could allow patients to receive quotes and interact with doctors globally, giving further access to more affordable care and a wider spectrum of specialists.
- Assured privacy
The NHS is still reeling from the widespread virus ‘WannaCry’ in 2017 that left hospitals unable to access patient records. Instead, blockchain technology could be used to keep patient data safe, as part of a multilayered system to ensure patient confidentiality.For example, Medipedia uses a multilevel security system, with data being encrypted before it is stored on blockchain. They also discourage users from storing any confidential data locally to prevent personal computers becoming an easy target for hackers. This means that a doctor and patient would both need to log in for either party to view confidential data, ensuring the control lies fully among the owners.
The issue of medical privacy is one that EU has been working on under the H2020 research program. MyHealthMyData (MHMD) aims at implementing one of the first blockchain-based biomedical information network centered on the connection between healthcare providers, biomedical industries and individuals. It hopes to make anonymized data from hospitals available for research and development.
All in all, there is a lot to learn from the use of blockchain and blockchain enabled platforms such as CareChain and Medipedia. The era of blockchain in healthcare is just beginning and it is certainly not a universal solution for all the NHS’s problems but the technology already offers the potential for huge changes in the way we organize and look at healthcare.