Blockchain technology has a place in any commercial network that is strongly motivated to avoid allowing a single central party to coordinate and approve transactions within the network. While the technicality of blockchain has a steep learning curve, there is tremendous potential in blockchain’s application across the healthcare space, well beyond the financial industry. While the perfect application of blockchain seems futuristic, some pilot projects are ongoing.

Listed below are the key trends within how blockchain technology is being used, as identified by GlobalData.

Managing patient data

Digital platforms based on blockchain technology are emerging to enable fast and seamless interaction among data providers, including patients themselves. With the progress in electronic health-related data gathering, cloud healthcare data storage and patient data privacy protection regulations, new opportunities are opening for daily health data management.

In 2018, the FDA’s Office of Translational Sciences implemented a blockchain-based solution with Booz Allen Hamilton Consulting that facilitates the real-time exchange of encrypted, permissioned health data between the agency and partner hospitals, generating reliable assessments within 24 hours. The Ethereum-based blockchain has been implemented at four major hospitals in the US.

Health Wizz is piloting a blockchain-based app that provides consumers with the necessary tools for aggregating, organising and sharing their medical health records. The idea is to enable individuals to control their health data as easily as they manage their online bank accounts, which would lead to better communication among healthcare organisations and caregivers to improve standard of care.

Enhancing clinical research

Pfizer, Amgen, and Sanofi are looking to streamline the process of developing and testing new drugs by using blockchain technology. The companies believe the collaboration with blockchain technology may help to increase efficiency, accelerate the R&D process, and reduce drug development costs. Additionally, Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) has partnered with IBM to improve trust, transparency, patient safety, and patient empowerment in clinical trials by using the IBM’s blockchain platform.

Reinventing supply chains

The supply chain for medical devices and pharmaceutical companies is an inefficient transaction network that is erroneous and lacking in mutual trust. Healthcare organisations, from manufacturers to retailers, can trace products through supply chains to ensure authenticity or flag potentially damaging in-transit events, such as signs of tampering, extreme environmental conditions, or careless handling. If a manufacturer identifies a quality issue with a device or drug, blockchain can help vendors expedite recalls by quickly determining the location of any inventory across the supply chain that needs to be kept out of circulation.

Given the data security, flexibility, and immutability that the blockchain offers, medical devices and pharmaceutical giants are looking to develop a tracking system based on the technology. Besides the MediLedger Project and the FDA’s pilot project with IBM, Merck, Walmart and KPMG, there are more collaborative efforts emerging in the industry. The Trust Your Supplier network has been built by IBM and Chainyard based on blockchain technology with the aim to improve vendors’ management process. The goal is to establish a secure and decentralised network that will improve supplier qualification, validation, onboarding, and life cycle information management.

Validating returned drugs

In the pharmaceutical industry, wholesalers often ask for excess inventory and may need to return some products to the manufacturers. Returned drugs are then repackaged and resold. Merck and American drug wholesale company, AmerisourceBergen, is working with SAP to develop a blockchain-based solution that curbs counterfeiting. They plan to tag drug shipments with identifiers by using SAP’s app, Advanced Track and Trace for Pharmaceuticals. The app can track the package and record whenever a transaction happens, allowing the manufacturer to verify its authenticity when returned.

Optimising digital advertising

German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, in collaboration with AT&T, Kellogg, and a couple other companies are looking to analyse their advertisement campaigns using blockchain technology. Bayer is working with a blockchain-based company, Amino Payments, to interpret what percentage of their ads are viewed by real people, what fraction are viewed by automated programs (commonly known as bots), and how much money they are losing to unscrupulous intermediaries.

Cooperating with regulators

The FDA is currently working on some pilot projects under DSCSA to test how blockchain can secure information sharing across healthcare enterprises in the US. Partners include pharmaceutical giants like Merck and Pfizer and start-ups like MediLedger and IDLogiq. Novartis is working on a partnership with the EU and the European pharmaceutical industry to form a consortium with players such as SME blockchain companies, tertiary institutions, hospitals, and clinical labs.

This is an edited extract from the Blockchain in Healthcare – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.