The report, written by Maged N. Kamel Boulos, James T. Wilson and Kevin A. Clauson, analyzes 40 indexed papers reflecting the “growing interest in blockchain among the medical and healthcare research and practice communities”. Although the report detailed some major hurdles that blockchain must overcome in order to wholly transform medicine, the researchers state that “blockchain’s foundations of decentralization, cryptographic security and immutability make it strong contender in reshaping the healthcare landscape worldwide”.
According to the report, blockchain solutions are currently being explored for the following areas of medicine:
1. Securing patient and provider identities
2. Managing pharmaceutical and medical device supply chains
3. Clinical research and data monetization
4. Medical fraud detection
5. Public health surveillance, e.g., by the US CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for sharing public health data to help public health workers respond faster to a crisis
6. Enabling truly public and open geo-tagged data;
7. Powering many IoT-connected autonomous devices, wearables, drones and vehicles, via the distributed peer-to-peer apps they run, to deliver the full vision of smart healthy cities and regions; and
8. Blockchain-enabled augmented reality in crisis mapping and recovery scenarios, including mechanisms for validating, crediting and rewarding crowdsourced geo-tagged data, among other emerging blockchain use cases.
However, as mentioned before, despite the immense potential for blockchain technology in the industry, there are dire areas in need of improvement for the tech. One of the areas of concern is security. Although most blockchain projects boast security, hacks are common within the industry, including “51% attack” and DDOS attacks. Considering the sensitivity of information in the field of medicine, there must be no questions surrounding blockchain tech for its implementation into medicine.
Another problem with blockchain technology is the interoperability – the communication and transfer between blockchains. Currently, thousands of blockchains exist and it is possible that different areas of medicine will build on top of different projects. Without interoperability, the information between projects will be obstructed, nullifying major advantages of blockchain technology. Thus, interoperability is crucial for the future of blockchain implementation.
Last but not least, government regulation is perhaps the most important question mark for the blockchain industry. With uncertainty surrounding the government for the blockchain industry, it is difficult to discern the future of the technology. When a significant industry such as medicine begins to utilize blockchain tech, there is no doubt that new regulations will have to be formed. The utility of blockchain technology could depend on the wisdom with which governments learn to handle the technology.
Nevertheless, the researchers of the report remain hopeful about the potential impact of the blockchain technology. In their own words, they write:
“We expect blockchain technologies to get increasingly powerful and robust, as they become coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) in various real-word healthcare solutions involving AI-mediated data exchange on blockchains.”