IoT and Blockchain – Prescription for Healthcare Sector?
Compared to industries like Finance, Big Data is a fairly new topic for healthcare organizations, not just driven by the fact that patient-related data is a highly sensitive issue but also due to the lack of technological innovation in this industry when it comes to digital transformation. Business models, devices, software solutions to gather and manage digital data about patients are ripe for a fresh look and a more integrated approach across a very fragmented ecosystem.
In pursuance of a better quality of care, reduction of costs and more seamless usage of data, hospitals, practitioners, drug companies, researchers, insurances and many other stakeholders are interested in understanding what new trends like Big Data, Internet of Things, and Blockchain can do for them and the industry in general.
The Internet of Things for Healthcare has experienced a boost with the arrival of Smartphone health apps, Internet-enabled wearables, special purpose medical devices, interfaces, and sensors. They help to monitore a person’s physical condition by collecting self-generated health information (so-called Patient-Generated Health Data or PGHD) – such as body weight, heart rates, burned calories, sleep patterns, blood sugar levels, and a variety of fitness-related metrics as well as monitoring of nutrition and medication intake.
Thus, aside from the prevailing masses of non-digitized health records, there is no shortage on data that could already be used to create visibility and a seamless information exchange in support of new business models and existing services across the healthcare value chain. The availability of consumer data spans across Personal and Family History (could be collected with apps such as My Medical), Self-Expression (through social media platforms), Baseline and Variability (sensor and wearable technology), Improvement (apps like MyFitnessPal, CodeBlue, Talk2Relax), and Prevention (apps like iTriage, GoodRx, Wellframe and various web portals).
But, poorly standardized and incompatible devices and clinician’s systems in addition to proprietary formats for health data currently inhibit industry players from creating a truly digital healthcare environment. On top of that, the sheer amount of data and lack of analytics solutions makes it hard to quickly gain useful insights and trigger respective actions. Letting this unstructured stream of data into the workflow of providers is currently faced with strong reluctance by the industry, which by the way, is not much different from other industries where companies struggle to efficiently capture, analyze and act on the IoT data load.
Regardless, IoT and big data are still going to push further into the Healthcare space, partially also driven by patients who realize increasing financial pressures for care from insurances and employers and have a rising awareness and personal responsibility concerning their healthcare choices – on the path towards a more self-driven, informed and connected patient.
Source: National Quality Forum (USA Statistics)
Throwing Blockchain into the mix of new enabling technologies. This system uses distributed information to validate transactions, such as a financial transfer or modification of the file contents. With that a lot of opportunities are being seen by industry participants, for example a more collaborative patient engagement, reconciliation of data across different silos, health information sharing, and quality data reporting. The vision is that on one hand patients are being enabled to create and manage their different providers and family members, and on the other hand caregivers can view, edit, and share an integrated and centralized personal health record. A paramount for this vision to materialize is full confidence of patients and industry players in the security and privacy of the patients’ data. Key discussions revolve around public, private, hybrid, permissioned, permissionless ecosystems, and last but not least governance across a fragmented ecosystem with a tight regulatory environment. Blockchain’s distributed ledgers approach can potentially transform the Healthcare sector but most activities are still in the early testing stages.
Stakeholders are eyeing existing experiences with Blockchain in sectors such as Finance and realize the need to develop strategic partnerships, for example amongst insurance and technology entities, as well as the integration of Blockchain with the enterprise world in a more agile approach, including proof of concepts, for faster and better outcomes.
One of such collaborative examples is what IBM Watson Health has launched beginning of this year with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The project is exploring different ways for consumers to share their data efficiently and securely, allowing them to make better, more informed healthcare choices. It is a two-year research agreement and integrates patient-level data from sources such as electronic medical records, clinical trials and genomic tests, as well as information trails from the IoT world of mobile devices and wearables, targeting the tricky areas around data integrity, security and breaches. An example from the telecom world is UAE’s telecom and broadband provider du, which works with NMC Healthcare, a major private healthcare provider in the region, to introduce blockchain technology into the management of patient information within the UAE through securely recording and storing medical health records on a blockchain. Last but not least Silicon Valley-based Gem has partnered with Philipps to build a blockchain data infrastructure to support worldwide connectivity for healthcare.