Blockchain technology has made significant advancements since its inception and has constantly been advancing into different areas. Few of them are as critical as medicine and sustaining medical facilities. The recent outbreak of the COVID-19 global epidemic has brought blockchain technology into the limelight as it can play an important role in containing the spread of the virus. US Homeland Security has also recognized the potential of this technology as cases of the infection have touched overwhelming numbers in the country. WHO has also recognized blockchain as the choice of technology to create a ‘COVID-19 information highway.’ Still, our focus here is primarily on the role of blockchain in the medical sector.
Hasshi Sudler of the Villanova College of Engineering has talked about two critical areas where blockchain could come to the rescue in the fight against the pandemic. He said, “As individuals travel across borders, medical facilities need immutable, trustworthy medical data quickly and electronically. A critical requirement to contain coronavirus is to track any individual having tested positive and to track the health of anyone who has come in contact with that individual, even if those encounters were across borders.” Thus blockchain could act as a database globally where the information can be accessed by medical facilities anywhere, although he also warns against potential cases of misinformation. Blockchain can allow medical facilities to access the data on the persons tested, the test results, and kits on a real-time basis to identify and curtail false information.
The technology should also be used to ‘validate quality medical advice’ and recognize sources of misinformation as these can have serious effects during such crises. Currently, social media has caused several myths and other ill-represented facts, conspiracies to spread like wildfire. Sudler remarked, “the blockchain can serve as a means to verify quality advice the public should follow versus false claims the public should disregard.” Most countries have taken measures of lockdown and shelter-in-place to restrict the spread of the virus while healthcare providers are working round the clock to provide essential services. This has already put tremendous pressure on this sector, where telemedicine has emerged as a viable option as people need to stay in isolation. “Telemedicine is the remote use of telecommunications to deliver care, like trading the typical doctor’s appointment for a private, secure video call with a medical profession.” Therefore it can be used for medical consultation without a physical visit, which has naturally led to a boom in this sector, presently.
Blockchain already works on an immutable ledger, technologies like zero-knowledge proofs and multiparty computation can add a degree of privacy to this ledger. The data needs to be provided to the healthcare sector while also protecting it from any breach. As telemedicine can help in cutting costs, both for the patient and the healthcare providers, various blockchain-based startups like BitMED aims to provide free telemedicine ‘through a platform built around its BXM token.’
Medicalchain is another example that provides access to complete healthcare records and allows users to share them with doctors through a system of MedTokens. The tokens can also be used for remote video consultations with desired doctors on the company’s MyClinic.com website. Several others provide blockchain telemedicine services through their own tokens like Docademic’s doc.com.
Despite blockchain technology bringing in such advancements, countries need to take comprehensive steps to prevent the further spread of the pandemic. Countries like India where resources are scarce and the population is huge, the government and the civil society would play a large role in containment and they can follow certain guidelines released by WHO. Blockchain technology has facilitated a boom in the telemedicine industry, although it is far beyond the reach of the average customer, especially in countries like India. However, the technology can certainly lay the foundation for firms building on a system of remote healthcare as this pandemic would isolate most of the global population.