Blockchain as a health booster

Published: July 23, 2018 2:42:40 AM

The sector is estimated to touch $372 billion by 2022; yet that growth is insufficient to address the needs of a 1.35 billion population.

The Indian healthcare system suffers from corruption, lack of infrastructure and basic equipment, poor data management, and under-availability of well-trained, qualified doctors and medical staff.

Globally, India’s healthcare and pharma sector ranks No. 3, in terms of volume of manufacturing and jobs. The sector is estimated to touch $372 billion by 2022; yet that growth is insufficient to address the needs of a 1.35 billion population. One part of the challenge lies in the widespread availability of counterfeit drugs and the other, in the shortfalls in the healthcare system. The Indian healthcare system suffers from corruption, lack of infrastructure and basic equipment, poor data management, and under-availability of well-trained, qualified doctors and medical staff. In fact, loose privacy laws and data security regulations that govern healthcare records, and lack of accountability increase the chances of data breaches and wrong diagnosis.

These challenges are not the easiest to solve, but can definitely be better managed through technology intervention. Blockchain might be the shot in the arm required to address the roadblocks faced by India’s healthcare sector. Popularly seen as the backbone technology of cryptocurrencies, blockchain is being strongly considered as a solution to healthcare concerns the world over to ensure authenticity of drugs, a strong backend health management system, and end of prescription leak from the supply chain. Case in point, in the wake of the global opioid crisis, global pharma giants such as Johnson & Johnson, are entering into partnerships with leading solution providers to address the problem of excessive prescriptions of potentially-dangerous drugs.

In India, blockchain can make a significant difference by providing a better healthcare system and pharmaceutical availability. Smart technology can unify the backend to address the concern of healthcare records and duplication in prescriptions. Scanning and recording of barcodes can create an audit trail of the drug from manufacturing to consumption. Sensors incorporated in the supply chain can track temperature or humidity, a significant consideration for drugs requiring refrigeration.

Accelerating the work in progress
Start-ups such as Healthureum are working on creating smart contracts to enable a mechanism to handle the disparate medical data lying in silos across the vast Indian healthcare system. This will provide expedited and transparent access to healthcare providers in the remotest corners of the country, enabling faster prognosis and treatment, better diagnostics, systemisation of data, etc., in a decentralised yet secure channel, negating the possibility of integrity issues and breaches.

The government is also doing its bit to bring technology to the forefront. The recent announcement of the launch of the National Health Protection Mission in the Union Budget 2018-19 is relevant in this context, and India’s finance minister has declared the government’s intentions to work with blockchain to streamline several sectors including healthcare. The collaborative and technology-driven approach to healing the critical issues in the Indian healthcare and pharma sector has begun, with associations such as the Healthcare Federation of India (NATHEALTH) calling for a joint approach between the government, public sector and private businesses. Blockchain’s ability to ensure data integrity and privacy is the key to making the implementation process for managing counterfeit drugs as well as patient records, robust.

To make the most of this potential synergy between healthcare and technology, roles and responsibilities among the private and public sectors have to be identified; infrastructural issues, including the lack of seamless data connectivity, need to be addressed, and have to be transitioned from paper to actual deployment. As long as the key stakeholders in the healthcare value chain agree on the same prescription, there is little doubt that we can successfully address the challenges plaguing the health of our nation.

Prakash Mallya
The writer is managing director – Intel India, Sales & Marketing Group

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