Decentralised electronic health records with blockchains

7 August 2018

If you saw your doctor tomorrow, what do you think they would see when typing your name into their electronic health record system?

Sadly, regardless of how frequently you see them, your doctor will never have access to your complete medical history.

Today, patients still have to recite their entire story each time they see a healthcare professional due to problems of record transfer across GPs and hospitals. As a result, it is extremely difficult to maintain a single copy of any medical record that you, or your doctor, can be certain is valid. Doctors are forced to deal with incomplete information when making critical clinical decisions, and patients feel out of the loop of their care. These issues are in no way trivial. Yet, no alternative way to store sensitive patient records has been successfully implemented that may rid us of these problems. Until now.

Blockchain and associated technologies provide the opportunity to review and redesign the UK’s healthcare data systems. Blockchain technology has the potential to empower patients with full access and control over their healthcare records. In contrast to storing healthcare records on a centralised cloud-based system, blockchain allows data to be securely decentralised. This means that every patient could safely hold their electronic healthcare records and share them immediately with any doctor in the world.

Imagine travelling abroad and accessing your complete UK electronic health record just like being able to withdraw UK money at any ATM. Blockchain companies are already making this future world of healthcare a reality. For example, by using blockchain technology to offer a secure, accurate version of an individual’s electronic health records, Medicalchain’s health ‘passport’ enables patients to share the right data, with the right professional, at the right time. Secondly, the company’s online consultation service MyClinic.com connects patients with a network of some of the world’s best healthcare practitioners and providers. Empowering patients with better access and control over their healthcare is evidenced to result in significant health benefits.

The desire to create a single electronic record to aid in such benefits is advocated by the Government. However, public initiatives in Britain are patchy, and rely on older technologies. Policymakers should look to countries such as Canada, France and Switzerland which are actively incentivising blockchain companies to operate there with offers of technical hubs and accelerators. Similar support for the nascent industry is required in Britain. Looking forward, there is no reason why blockchain should not be a key feature of the Government’s industrial tech strategy.

By engaging in discussions about blockchain technology now, policymakers and industry alike can ensure that the transformation of healthcare offers patients real control over their data, improves communication between healthcare professionals and the efficiency of the NHS.

Dr Philip Xiu, Chief Medical Officer, Medicalchain

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