The strain placed on healthcare teams and networks over the past few months has been severe, pushing dedicated medical professionals to the limit as they work tirelessly to combat COVID-19 in communities around the world. The crisis has permeated every facet of society, shining a spotlight on the glaring inefficiencies within the traditional global healthcare system and illustrating the inherent need for technology-driven initiatives that can alleviate pressure on healthcare professionals and ensure patient data collation is as streamlined and secure as possible.
As someone who has long championed the potential of blockchain technology to be a transformative enabler of change across a wide spectrum of industries, I believe in the criticality of delivering new levels of efficiency, transparency and automation — pronounced benefits of distributed ledger technology — to the future of global healthcare, particularly from a data collation and patient care delivery standpoint.
Admittedly, transforming the manner in which people receive care and interact with medical practitioners will be a body of work that spans years. Thankfully, this kind of landmark change is well within blockchain’s purview. Already, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the way patients have been engaging with practitioners has changed dramatically. Natural prudence has dissuaded large swathes of U.S. citizens from visiting their medical facility of choice, with virtual doctor visits in the United States jumping significantly from 12,000 per week to over 1 million per week since March 2020. This mainstream embrace of telehealth illustrates how the healthcare sector can be nimble in times of crisis, but this trend must continue post-pandemic in order to break down the barriers to entry in our healthcare systems while, most importantly, broadening accessibility to healthcare.
Blockchain can play a role in developing secure, decentralized platforms geared toward aggregating sensitive patient data, thereby improving patients’ scope of choice when it comes to selecting a medical practitioner based on their needs. These kinds of initiatives are already in the market, with healthcare technology platform Solve.Care recently launching a bespoke Global Telehealth Exchange, a blockchain-based healthcare platform that allows patients to access healthcare services from anywhere in the world through their own mobile devices. If introduced on a mainstream level, this would bring a much-needed layer of fluidity to the healthcare space, negating the need for patients to painstakingly recall their medical history, partake in repeat testing if they find themselves in another medical jurisdiction, or if they suddenly find themselves consulting with a new practitioner.
This new reality would see patients empowered to consult with any number of medical practitioners across the globe. This would also give medics the opportunity to practice a new strand of telemedicine, broadening their own medical horizons while serving a global community of patients, remotely.
As businesses and citizens alike continue to push for a return to pre-pandemic work and social conditions, we have to ensure that the reactivation of a regular cadence of economic and professional activity is handled delicately and tactfully. Intuitively, employers must do everything they can to ensure their employees return to the workplace on assured footing, comfortable and safe in their surroundings. This means employers need the tools to track and monitor cases of COVID-19 within their workforce.
Blockchain-powered solutions can facilitate real-time status updates pertaining to COVID-19 prevalence in the workplace, helping companies to quickly aggregate case information and plan effectively. This focus on “tracing” will be critical. Outside of the blockchain space, tech-based solutions to stem the spread of the virus have been making tangible differences.
Ireland’s successful launch of its national COVID-19 tracing app saw 1 million people download the app within the first week of its launch. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million people have now downloaded the app, just shy of 33% of the country’s population. Apps of this nature, if replicated and adopted on a global scale, will go a long way to mitigating the risk of COVID-19 infection spikes. In Gibraltar, the government has successfully launched a similar app-based system to “track and trace” close contacts of people carrying COVID-19 while ensuring that the privacy of an individual’s personal data is fully respected.
Some of the above examples provide a glimpse into a redefined healthcare system powered by blockchain technology. Although certain applications will be easier to deploy at scale than others, that shouldn’t deter us from seriously considering pouring resources into ensuring our healthcare networks and communities are better equipped to handle further global crises in the future. Further breakthrough deployments of DLT solutions have the potential to strengthen healthcare systems more broadly, improve the accessibility of healthcare, and empower patients and practitioners to embrace a new era of streamlined telehealth.