Over the past decade, blockchain has surpassed the hype realm into a truly transformative solution for industries. There are several companies to invest billions of dollars on the network; it awarded LinkedIn’s list of in-demand hard skills in 2020, and articles on its potential are now scattered on every finance blog. Ask those who lived through the early days of the internet, and they will certainly have a lot to tell you about the feeling of deja vu that has spread the tech space.
Mainstream maximalist circles have touted blockchain as the magical solution for many industries – healthcare is probably the most in need. Forbes’ report disclosed that in 2015, up to 112 million medical records records were stolen, lost or compromised. While it is not clear how many wrecks this has caused, the health data is delicate and any solution must be carefully investigated.
Of course the possibilities of blockchain could open another side to medicine and offer solutions to age-old problems in the profession. On the other hand, a lack of understanding of the pitfalls can greatly hamper the potential that is contained in this partnership. Let’s highlight four critical drawbacks of using blockchain in healthcare.
Storage and data transfer
Healthcare stakeholders – patients, payers, providers and researchers – generate thousands of data every second, from patient background data to test results, images, medications and a host of other data that needs to be constantly updated. Under all this, confidentiality is at the helm of medicine, and all health data must be carefully accounted for.
However, it is one thing to digitize health data and another thing is to transfer tons of data to a publicly encrypted database. Dealing with other staff and real blockchain experts to transfer and update health data ironically leaves room for a massive data breach or incorrect documentation of health data. In addition, the time it takes to systematically organize and update tons of health data would be significantly alarming.
The blockchain trilemma
Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, coined the term “blockchain trilemma, ”A term describing the unfeasibility of obtaining all three desired properties from any blockchain-based use case – decentralization, security, and scalability. In simpler terms, it is impossible to have all three components in one project. One has to be sacrificed for the other two. Since blockchain is (for the most part) based on decentralization and security, it is quite obvious which one is the sacrificial lamb.
The degree of scalability determines the capacity of each network and must be addressed before implementation. In an effort to secure a blockchain network, the amount of data processed per second was limited by the developers. For blockchains growing exponentially, this has one scalability problem as more people swarm through the network. Poor blockchain scalability would mean that healthcare stakeholders would be very limited in processing real-time data. In addition to being unsuitable for emergency care, it also implies that health workers should do more with less.
In the long run, blockchain will ultimately save a lot of money for both patients and healthcare providers. Healthcare costs will ultimately be optimized for supply chains in pharmacy, patient records and health insurance. A BIS study suggests that blockchain would save up to $ 100 billion over eight years.
However, early adoption of blockchain in healthcare will certainly not be easy in terms of cost. The costs of building applications, reorienting stakeholders to a new system, security and maintenance are enormous. A blockchain network spanning the entire U.S. healthcare system would cost hundreds of billions and require patient investors and government assistance. However, optimal systems within a blockchain network can emerge over time and reduce these potentially enormous costs.
Policy and regulations
Health data is very sensitive, hence the strict regulations that guide health care professionals in their work. Since the introduction of electronic health records, these regulations have continued to increase as health professionals try to protect themselves from medical malpractice.
The introduction of blockchain would be a completely new and cumbersome method of dealing with health data; it would certainly pass through policy rounds around the world. Additionally, health workers could potentially be exposed to thousands of lawsuits, and they may not be open to the technology.
This article was contributed by Joshua Esan and Motolani Victor.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the sole ones of the authors and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Joshua Esan is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He has worked with various companies and blogs since the blockchain revolution started.
Motolani Victor is an entrepreneur, investor and aspiring doctor. He has always been passionate about healthcare and artificial intelligence and is now interested in how blockchain can revolutionize the digitized world.