Blockchain to secure healthcare environments

The increasing number of data breaches in the healthcare sector is causing serious problems in management and storage. In addition, traditional security methods being used to protect healthcare applications are proving ineffective. This is why emerging technologies such as blockchain are offering new security approaches and processes for healthcare applications, providing data confidentiality and privacy.

Data breaches are one of the main cybersecurity issues in the healthcare sector. Figure 1 shows how the amount of health record data leakage has been increasing, highlighting a large change between 2018 and 2019, a date coinciding with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 1. Number of data breaches of 500 or more health records in the healthcare sector from 2009 to 2021. Source: https://www.hipaajournal.com/healthcare-data-breach-statistics/

And how can blockchain help decrease the number of data breaches? Although the blockchain is known for the famous Bitcoin and its use in the cryptocurrency arena, it is evolving for use in different systems, such as healthcare. In this article I am not going to focus on how this technology works, but how it would be applied in healthcare.

Why blockchain in healthcare?

Blockchain offers several features that have caught the attention of the healthcare sector. Blockchain technology is expected to improve the management of medical records, accelerate clinical and biomedical research, and advance the recording of biomedical and healthcare data. These expectations are based on the key aspects of blockchain technology, such as decentralized management, immutable audit trail, data origin, robustness, and improved security and privacy.

Application of blockchain in healthcare

The use of blockchain technology would impact many aspects. One of them is healthcare data management. Healthcare data management, which includes storage, access control and data exchange, is a very important concern in the sector. This is a difficult task due to its sensitive nature and the resulting trust issues. However, proper management of healthcare data improves healthcare outcomes by enabling a holistic view of patients, personalized treatments and effective communication.

The healthcare system is a disconnected system and is to blame for several inefficiencies in healthcare, apart from being a major obstacle to research. Healthcare professionals often do not have access to complete patient data, hindering subsequent diagnostic and treatment steps; and researchers struggle to find the desired data for their studies, slowing down healthcare research.

Blockchain can enable the efficient exchange of healthcare data, while ensuring data integrity and protecting patient privacy. A secure, efficient, cost-effective and interoperable Health Information Exchange (HIE) is often built with its proper use in conjunction with other technologies. In addition, blockchain adoption can drive the movement to a patient-centric healthcare model where patients control their health data.

Limitations of blockchain in healthcare

Like any new technology this one has its own limitations and challenges. The challenges are transparency and confidentiality, as everyone can see all the information in a blockchain network. To solve this and taking into account that the number of transactions in healthcare is huge, a revolution of blockchain technology is needed. Moreover, the threat of an attack is a theoretical but possible risk and a solution for this should be suggested.

Future of blockchain in healthcare

Blockchain technology is constantly improving and is not complete, with several potential challenges that need to be solved for its adoption in biomedical and healthcare applications. The applications of blockchain technology are numerous, especially in the medical industry. This technology is likely to take medical science to the next level in the future by reducing the costs of control, configuration and having a central data server.

In addition, the patient will have complete autonomy over his or her data and will decide with whom to share it. The successful implementation of blockchain technology in clinical healthcare would undoubtedly open up new avenues of research for the advancement of biomedicine. Moreover, on the other hand, in precision medicine applications, the acquisition, storage and secure and scalable sharing of this clinical data would help develop possible strategies for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.

Finally, and despite the immense potential of blockchain technology and the great societal interest in it, its impact on healthcare is still taking shape. However, the field is evolving rapidly, so a significant positive impact of blockchain on medicine and healthcare is anticipated in the future.

References

  • [1] A. S. Rajawat, P. Bedi, S. B. Goyal, R. N. Shaw, A. Ghosh, and S. Aggarwal, “AI and Blockchain for Healthcare Data Security in Smart Cities,” in AI and IoT for Smart City Applications, vol. 1002, V. Piuri, R. N. Shaw, A. Ghosh, and R. Islam, Eds. Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore, 2022, pp. 185-198. doi: 10.1007/978-981-16-7498-3_12.
  • [2] A. Tandon, A. Dhir, A. K. M. M. N. Islam, and M. Mäntymäki, “Blockchain in healthcare: A systematic literature review, synthesizing framework and future research agenda,” Computers in Industry, vol. 122, p. 103290, Nov. 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.compind.2020.103290.
  • [3] K. Ahmad, “Blockchain Technology and its Implementations in Medical and Healthcare Field,” International Journal of Engineering Research, vol. 9, no. 09, p. 6.
  • [4] “Healthcare Data Breach Statistics,” HIPAA Journal. https://www.hipaajournal.com/healthcare-data-breach-statistics/ (accessed June 20, 2022).

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Comments

  1. It is a good step to use this technology in the health field.

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