The role of data sharing in spreading innovation

25 May 2018

The medical consultation, in recent decades, has adapted quite significantly in light of technological advances.

What has changed is the profound role that technology plays within the patient-doctor relationship. In today’s world, doctors have a computer at their desk that acts much like their digital assistant for which they constantly refer to.

Simply put, technological integration within medical infrastructures has enabled the treatment of many more patients with increased efficiency whilst simultaneously decreasing the number of missed, misdiagnosed and misunderstood diseases. Truly this is a great feat.

However, it is imperative to recognise that the technological benefits that have been afforded to us are the consequences of effective and proper use of data. Large centralised patient databases have arisen as a pragmatic answer to modern national health systems. However such healthcare data is stored in distinct “silos” which are governed by different gatekeepers. Doctors can’t often get access to different data silos easily, and patients usually have poor access to their own health records. The argument is that we own our bodies, and should thereby be self-governing over each-and-every time our data is utilised.

Patients’ data has immense significance, as it enables the possibility for analytical methods to uncover patterns in how our health commonly fails us, enabling continuous improvement in how we self-manage, predict and treat disease.

There are recent cryptographic solutions to these problems in the form of what is known as a blockchain.

A blockchain is a database that, instead of being held by one institution, is distributed across a network of computers that each keep an identical version of the truth (also known as a ledger). A defining feature of blockchain technology is that it enables the individual to have complete cryptographically secure ownership and sovereignty of their data. At a fundamental level this is using technology to empower the individual. As a result, in order to update your health record on the database, each node on the network has to agree by a consensus mechanism, meaning that the requirement to trust any one institution to use your data begins to erode away.

One major advantage of blockchain technology for patients and the health system they engage with, is that it improves the quality of consultations which in turn leads to more accurate diagnoses, planned investigations and eventual treatment plans. It is also important to engage and empower patients with their own medical information so that they can be involved in their own healthcare decisions. By giving them the ability to view their records in their own time, this will facilitate their understanding of their health needs and involve them more in the health pathway.

Such a paradigm shift of data control is seismic in how we conceive of healthcare by having a truly “patient-centred” approach. This is an exciting space that Medicalchain is spearheading the development of.

We are at the forefront of developing methods to integrate this technology into our modern healthcare system. As the NHS becomes increasingly challenged on many fronts, this will likely not be an elective decision, but a necessity.

Dr Philip Xiu, Chief Medical Officer, Medicalchain

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