“Blockchain Is Key To Providing Better Healthcare Services”

Blockchain has already created an impact in the banking sector. David Roberts, Global Health Advisor, EY believes blockchain has the potential to offer better services to consumers in the healthcare sector by making the system transparent. He talks to BW Healthcareworld’s Bhakt Vatsal Sharma about the various benefits of blockchain in the healthcare sector. Excerpts:

Blockchain has the potential to revolutionise the economy. How do you think it will change the game in healthcare? 

Blockchain is an emerging technology and like cryptocurrency that is very interesting to observe, one of the big things we are finding in healthcare is people’s anxiety and frustration about privacy. Blockchain offers us an opportunity to build people’s confidence in the field of health data. I’m not sure if we need blockchain to resolve privacy but it is a confidence booster at the moment. We see real value in the open ledger nature of this technology and the ability to change it means transparency is a really important component of that. There are some inherent things in blockchain coded solutions which are quite attractive and that is why we are beginning to see that road. Applications in blockchain solution are small at the moment but they are growing. For example, the Estonian government has converted their systems into 100 per cent digital and have some neat blockchain solutions in their healthcare solutions. From my perspective, there is great interest in understanding whether any new technological developments can be executed in blockchain or not. I feel the latter is a very valid question to be asked because it’s a technology that is more expensive to produce. One of the places we are thinking it will have a great application involves an institution demanding a heightened level of trust in a transaction. For instance, there is a move across the world with respect to personalised medicine and that requires a trustworthy supply chain. An individual in need of a particular drug or therapy must receive the right kind of attention and blockchain is the perfect tool to decode and derive medical data of a person and verifying the right patient demanding that particular drug or treatment. Track Trace and Verify (TTV) is a great platform to execute blockchain because they are far more transparent and it can encode a care pathway of an individual patient while providing real time data from the system. The diagnostic world is another important field where blockchain can be used because there is a high propensity in India. But the care pathway is also a really interesting place where we might use blockchain. It is countries like India  that are having talks around the subject and at length and it really fascinates me as well.

What are the most important things healthcare professionals need to know about blockchain? 

The future state of healthcare is one with unlimited interoperability, and new network technologies such as blockchain may provide the building blocks for a globally connected health system. Blockchain databases are shared by multiple parties and connecting more than one party forms a network. Each party in the network is uniquely identified. The unique identifier is the mechanism by which other parties on the network identify one another. Blockchains are not simply shared storage facilities for static data, but rather transactional environments that enable the direct transfer of data between parties. Activity on the network is time-stamped and recorded, producing a chronological record of data transfers. Collectively, these components inject trust in a network by keeping an updated record of who did what, and when. For health care, an industry with myriad stakeholders managing millions of records and data points on a daily basis, the ability to efficiently share information across stakeholders and do it in a way that preserves fidelity and confidentiality of data is paramount. By providing a trusted environment for recording and exchanging data, blockchain could fundamentally change how  payers and providers share claims information, provider data is updated and matriculated through a network, medical records are shared and updated through the care continuum, population health data is aggregated and analysed, clinical trial data is recorded and prescription drugs are tracked and monitored through the supply chain. 

Are there any challenges in inculcating  a new technology in a traditional system or in taking trends from one part of the world to another? 

There are parts of the world that are spending huge sums of money on electronic health records. Because the theory was to improve the efficiency of all organisations, reduce errors, improve outcomes in poverty, communicate better with patients and standardise the way care will be delivered. Now what we are seeing is much more cost-effective, agile and cheaper technology starting to implement that and we are asking the question, what way should we go around electronic health records? Imagine putting a major electronic health record in a 1,000bed hospital. The amount of change and difficulty involved to embrace it for the staff is challenging and that is where we invest time. Inversely if you go to a nation which accepts digital technologies, mobiles and Internet, they are more willing to accept online tele health, they are already being trained and so we find that people who find it easy to use banking applications, retail applications etc. they would already know the nuances of using a healthcare application. That encourages others around the world and the journey towards training people using pervasive technology like that is the way forward. Although, mobile devices haven’t inculcated major healthcare systems and so the training of the two different communities is quite different. The speed at which we are able to accelerate mobile technologies in healthcare, the better it will be.

How would you define the Indian healthcare industry? How do we go about adopting technologies? 

India might not have the large public sector or academic centres like there are in the US or Europe. This country might also lack healthcare infrastructure too but what you do have here is a fantastic private sector model. Some organisations are world leading corporations that have Interoperability is a very important topic at the moment. The world has been working very hard to create through API and fire technologies the ability to reduce the barriers to interoperability. Those are being created through the commercial world, not because hospitals wanted to narrow down their interoperability. Mobile devices and technology require us to be more open. Because consumers, who are the connection point now rather than hospitals and medical institutions, allow them to store and create their own data and add information to their health records which will be stored by the application providers. Most of the information through a hospital will be given by an API and that is not where the world is going. This is so that they need to provide my medical data into my cloud storage. Blockchains are a good way to gather a country’s health records and provide them to citizens and hospitals around the country through personalised applications and storage devices. 


How many technology centres does EY have in the country? How many tech alliances do you have in India? 

EY wavespace™ Thiruvananthapuram is a network of global growth and innovation centres that help clients catch the next wave in radical breakthroughs by tapping into innovative thinking across EY disciplines by linking EY firms, labs and professionals worldwide. Recently, we opened a new wavespace™ in Hong Kong, which brings the number of globally connected flagship centres to 19 worldwide. Strategic alliances are at the heart of EY’s ability to address the most significant issues that organisations and  clients face today, as they look for new, collaborative ways to manage disruption, improve business performance, and grow. Through its ecosystem of alliances, EY accelerates its clients’ issues-driven innovation and digital transformation with market innovators that can add rapidly-deployed, long-lasting assets to its portfolio. EY’s ecosystem of alliances includes global strategic technology relationships with Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Automation Anywhere and others, as well as collaboration with organisations that specialise in a specific competency, industry or geography.


Where do you see EY in the next 5 years? 

It is without question that the technology revolution is gaining pace and we are now seeing it efficiently driving its relevance in the healthcare space. We probably find ourselves finding the answers to the acceleration and adoption of technologies in other parts of the world. I have spent a lot of time in Asia and I’m planning to spend some time in the eastern countries because they have a power house of thinking which is capable of being adopted and embraced in other parts of the world.     


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