Coronavirus: Unlocking Healthcare Potential with Blockchainby Vanessa Koh, CTO, Building Cities Beyond Blockchain April 14, 2020
Healthcare sectors across the globe are in tremendous pressure today as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) upended world economies and everyday lifestyle. While leaders are probing for measures to contain the spread, the pandemic continues to highlight the shortcomings of the healthcare system around the world. Although we can all agree that there is no country fully prepared for an unprecedented crisis like COVID-19, the past few weeks have proven that some countries may be at higher risk compared to the others.
As of 26 March 2020, the global infection has crossed half a million cases, claiming the lives of 23,000 people worldwide. Underdeveloped countries, such as India and the Philippines are facing major disruptions to their lives as they look to contain the pandemic through measures such as extreme lockdowns. Meanwhile, several leading smart cities are adopting a ‘business as usual’ attitude – employing their digital smarts to ensure accurate contact tracing, while ensuring that work continues despite the social distancing measures taken to limit spread.
Singapore’s recent launch of the TraceTogether app is one such example, and since its launch less than a fortnight ago has already garnered about one million downloads – roughly just under 20 percent of the city’s population. The app which automates the recording of data between users who come into close proximity, will prove to be a potent tool in the smart city’s quest to optimise contact tracing procedures. Singapore plans to open source the technology in order to allow other nations and cities to adopt its solution – underlining its massive contributions on the global and regional stage despite its size.
Singapore has not been the only nation in the headlines for innovation, and COVID-19 has been a major driver for digital transformation in many parts of the world. A start-up from Italy recently 3D printed replacement ventilator valves for a hospital facing shortage – and is a great case-study of how tech companies can contribute despite its size. The use of the big-four interrelated emerging technologies – Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain, have been crucial in our fight to optimise healthcare resources and manage data. In this article, we explore the potential application of blockchain in helping healthcare systems tackle the pandemic.
Current Blockchain Application in Healthcare
From tracing potential cases to supporting the healthcare providers and securing medical data, modern-day technologies play a crucial role in tackling the outbreak. China was an early adapter to healthcare technologies and is a perfect example to kickstart the discussion on how the outbreak can be successfully contained with blockchain technologies. The Chinese hospitals which saw an overflowing number of infected patients a few weeks ago, now have empty beds. In the first two weeks of February, the Chinese market saw at least 20 blockchain-powered applications being launched to help fight the outbreak. Most of the solutions were to manage medical data and personal information.
In the capital of Shaanxi Province, health records from online consultations and screenings are securely managed using the tamper-proof blockchain ecosystem where the personal information collected is encrypted and stored in the cloud servers. The data aids clinicians and other frontline medical personnel to identify patterns and take precautionary measures to suppress transmission. The blockchain protocol can even auto-delete the stored information after the pandemic if the smart contract application was used. This will help eliminate any chances of breach of privacy in the future.
China’s case study also showcases the potential of a blockchain network in streamlining the medical supply chain. In collaboration with Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission and the Economy and Information Technology Department, payment platform Alipay launched an application that records and tracks the demand, supply, and logistics of medical supplies. The open blockchain network enables users to track the allocation of resources and ensure their donations reach where it’s needed. Other than eliminating the chances of fake medical equipment and products being used in the healthcare system, the immutable ecosystem also records any mishandling of supplies.
On top of that, blockchain technology was also used to send official updates in China. The local authorities explained that the use of blockchain ensured that the information circulated was precise and monitored. This aided the citizens to dispel false news and cope with the outbreak better.
Keeping a tab on the outbreak
Although the first few COVID-19 cases were detected in people who had been in close contact with infected animals, rapid human to human transmission has allowed the virus to mutate quickly. To flatten the transmission curve, governments across the globe have ordered the residents to avoid crowded areas, practice social distancing and be well informed about the affected cases in the vicinity. Some governments have even enforced stay-home orders to minimize direct interaction and possible transmission. However, tracking people who have been exposed to and/or were in close contact with confirmed cases still remains a challenge for the healthcare personnel. The blockchain technology can enhance monitoring and track the virus outbreak more efficiently. A healthcare surveillance system powered by blockchain allows national health agencies and local authorities to track infectious areas, enabling earlier detection of an outbreak. Authorities could even keep track of patients as well as suspected new cases and receive real-time information that fastens the treatment procedure.
Swifter insurance claims
In this vital period, assurance is one of the key elements that is needed to upkeep people’s morale. One form of assurance and peace of mind is derived from knowing that your testing and treatments will not burn a hole in your pockets. The blockchain network has the capacity to facilitate insurance claims, helping firms reduce the time spent on paperwork and vetting with the clinics. Through smart contracts and blockchain interoperability, insurance firms and partnering clinics could automate health claim adjudications. The firms could even notify patients on the actions to be taken in order to process the payments. This not only improves efficiency in the COVID-19 crisis but also eliminates the need for face-to-face contact which escalates the virus transmission.
While existing healthcare technologies may aid in treatment, there is no doubt that the blockchain applications could provide a proactive solution and are key to tackling global pandemic like COVID-19. From ensuring symptoms are detected at an early stage to securing information and better surveillance, it is important to adapt to new technologies that strengthen the current infrastructure. Unprecedented health crisis like the COVID-19 serves as an example for many developing nations across the globe to keep an open mind towards innovative applications. A dynamic, smart solution is central to a healthcare revolution that not only counteracts the crisis in hand but also establishes a structure that preps for any future biological hazards.
Featured image credit: Unsplash