Over the past decade, blockchain has surpassed the hype realm into a truly transformative solution for the industry. Several companies are investing billions of dollars in the network. It was high on LinkedIn’s list of hard skills in demand in 2020, and articles about its potential are now strewn across every financial blog. Ask those who lived through the early internet days and they will surely have a lot to tell you about the feeling of Deja Vu that spread the tech space.
Mainstream maximalist circles have touted blockchain as a magical solution for many industries – healthcare is probably the most needy. Forbes’ report found that up to 112 million health records were stolen, lost, or compromised in 2015. While there is no telling how many wrecks this has caused, the health data is delicate and any solution must be carefully considered.
Of course, the potential of the blockchain could open up another side of medicine and bring solutions to centuries-old professional problems. On the other hand, a lack of understanding of the pitfalls could massively hinder the potential included in this partnership. Let’s highlight four key drawbacks to adopting 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 must be constantly updated. Under all of this, confidentiality is at the forefront of medicine and all health data must be carefully considered.
However, it’s one thing to digitize health data and another thing to put tons of data in a publicly encrypted database. Dealing with various employees and actual blockchain experts to transfer and update health data ironically leaves room for a massive data breach or inappropriate documentation of health data. Also, the time it would take to systematically organize and update tons of health data would be vastly alarming.
The blockchain trilemma
Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, coined the term “blockchain trilemma”, a term that describes the impossibility of maintaining all three desirable properties of a blockchain-based use case – decentralization, security and scalability. In simpler terms, it’s impossible to have all three components in one project. One must be sacrificed for the other two. When you consider that blockchain is based (largely) on decentralization and security, it is pretty stark which the sacrificial lamb is.
The degree of scalability determines the capacity of a network and must be considered before implementation. In an attempt to secure a blockchain network, the amount of data processed per second was limited by the developers. With blockchains growing exponentially, this has created a scalability problem as more and more people flood the network. Poor blockchain scalability would mean that healthcare stakeholders would be very limited in processing real-time data. Aside from being unsuitable for emergency care, it means healthcare workers should do more with less.
Ultimately, in the long run, blockchain will save a lot of money for both patients and healthcare providers. Ultimately, healthcare costs are optimized for supply chains in pharmaceuticals, medical records, and health insurance. A BIS study suggests that blockchain could save up to $ 100 billion over eight years.
Adopting blockchain early in healthcare, however, will certainly not be easy in terms of costs. The costs of creating applications, reorienting stakeholders to a new system, and security and maintenance are enormous. A blockchain network spanning the entire healthcare system of the United States would cost hundreds of billions and require patient investors and government help. Over time, however, optimal systems can emerge within a blockchain network and reduce these potentially huge fees.
Directives and regulations
Health data is very sensitive, hence the strict regulations that guide health professionals in their work. Since the introduction of electronic health records, these regulations have continued to increase as health professionals seek to protect themselves from medical misconduct.
The introduction of the blockchain would be a completely new and cumbersome method for handling health data. It would certainly go through rounds of policy reviews around the world. In addition, healthcare professionals could face thousands of lawsuits and be inaccessible to the technology.
This article was co-authored by Joshua Esan and Motolani Victor.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed are the sole rights 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. Since the beginning of the blockchain revolution, he has worked with various companies and blogs.
Motolani Victor is an entrepreneur, investor and budding doctor. He has always been passionate about healthcare and artificial intelligence and is now interested in how blockchain can revolutionize the digitized world.