The company believes the first blockchain healthcare applications will be in the supply chain because it is less resistant to change. “The primary obstacles to [blockchain-based systems] implementation for data sharing within the healthcare industry are regulations concerning medical data and the prohibitive cost of setting up a common distributed network,” says Spencer Shaw, Healthcare Analyst at GlobalData.
American pharmaceutical giant Merck has filed for a US patent for a blockchain-based system which stores the location coordinates of objects and tracks them. GlobalData suggests the technology will prove to be an invaluable tool for confronting the rise of counterfeit drugs.
Merck began to explore applications in 2016, when Nishan Kulatilaka, the company’s Associate Director of Product Management and Applied Technology, speculated that after financial services “healthcare could potentially be the second-biggest industry to adopt blockchain technology”. Merck claims its system ensures records are essentially immutable and, when employed in a supply chain, restricts the opportunity for fraudulent activities.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has highlighted the need for improvements in supply chain security and accountability. Counterfeit goods accounted for 2.5% of the global pharmaceutical trade in 2013 and are estimated to be worth around $200 billion (£151 billion) annually, marginally less than the $246 billion (£186 billion) illicit drug trade.
Shaw says, beyond its potential use within supply chain security, blockchain could provide a secure and convenient mechanism of data transfer between patients and healthcare providers.
Recently, US retail giant Walmart was awarded a patent for a blockchain-based system for the storage of medical records retrieved from wearable healthcare devices. The system is said to allow medical professionals to access medical data from patients who are unable to communicate.