The British NHS is facing an existential threat. Since 2019, the institution has needed to take emergency loans to stay afloat. Some of these challenges can be traced back to David Cameron’s tenure as prime minister, when he unexpectedly starting making cuts to the service.
Fortunately, new technology can help the NHS run more cost-effectively and avoid the looming threat of bankruptcy. One of these promising solutions is blockchain which has promise for the healthcare sector.
When most people think of Blockchain, they think of online distributed databases and cryptocurrency. The provision of medical care might not be the first thing that springs to mind. And yet, despite widespread misunderstanding of the technology, it’s something which holds considerable promise in a wide range of fields: medicine included.
A 2020 study from India was published in ScienceDirect, which highlighted the benefits of blockchain in medicine. The research was not limited to India, since a growing number of healthcare providers in the U.S. and Europe are using blockchain as well.
Healthcare providers can use the Blockchain network for a variety of purposes, including preserving and exchanging patient data. This network includes hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, pharmacy firms, and physicians. With Blockchain applications, severe and dangerous mistakes in the medical field can be accurately identified.
With health services (including the NHS) facing pressures from their ageing base of patients, innovation has become more important than ever. So, what good might Blockchain do in the health service?
How Blockchain works
A blockchain is a kind of ledger that’s distributed amongst many different computer systems. When a change is made to the ledger, the entire network must agree to the change. This makes the network inherently resistant to tampering. If you want to amend a given entry in the ledger, then you can only do so with the permission of everyone.
What defines a blockchain is its structure. As time passes and modifications are made to the database, new blocks are added to a chain. Each block contains an encoded ‘hash’ number, which is based on the information in the previous blocks. If the chain doesn’t ‘hash out’ to the correct coded number, it means that one of the blocks has been altered. Such tampering is thereby made extremely difficult.
It’s this resilience that has made cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin possible. Because of this need for consensus, it’s impossible for anyone to unilaterally change the contents of their Bitcoin wallet.
How it can benefit the NHS
Healthcare systems depend on the maintenance and distribution of patient records. Blockchain might allow patients to approve any change to their records, and to more effectively control who looks at them. It might also improve data security in healthcare, and make ransomware attacks against the NHS more difficult.
In an era where healthcare decisions are going to be increasingly informed by data collected by wearable devices, there’s an unprecedented opportunity for sensitive information to be leaked. The adoption of blockchain technology might help to guard against this danger.
Limitations of blockchain technology
For all of its many advantages, Blockchain still has its limitations. One of the major disadvantages is a widespread lack of understanding of, and trust in, the technology. When blockchain solutions are improperly implemented, they can cause more harm than good. This is where a specialised blockchain lawyer might help organisations to stay on the right side of their data-protection responsibilities.
What’s more, the immutable nature of the Blockchain tends to vanish if a single person or organisation manages to gain control of half of the ‘nodes’. In this case, the consensus mechanism on which the technology depends might be disrupted. Where patient data is stored using a blockchain, what’s more, there can be no ‘right to erasure’ when it comes to patient data: it’s stored on the chain indefinitely.