Blockchain could have huge impact on data sharing

While the sharing of patient data is a crucial part of clinical research, researchers still deal with several challenges that prevent their work from moving forward. There may be one solution that has the potential to address each challenge—blockchain.

Blockchain solutions in healthcare could have the most impact in the clinical supply chain, health information exchange, longitudinal view of the patient and with patient incentives for sharing data, according a report published by Deloitte. The technology is a decentralized ledger of all transactions in a network that was popularized by the rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

“Due to its capabilities, blockchain may offer a solution to more easily aggregate health data in a secure, trusted, automated and error-free way,” the report said. “This can allow patients to more easily aggregate their data from different sources and share what they choose to with their physicians and researchers. All this puts the patient in the driver seat of health and well-being, rather than being along for the ride.”

Led by dozens of clinical research companies and regulators, the report looked at how blockchain solutions could benefit the sharing of patient data and clinical research. Patient data is an extremely important to clinical research, which can oftentimes be stalled due to a lack of data.

Challenges with patient data sharing include:

  • limited accessibility and knowledge of clinical trial opportunities
  • few incentives for patients to share their medical information
  • lack of trust that sensitive medical information will be kept secure
  • lack of digital health record interoperability

“The excitement surrounding blockchain’s potential has predominantly been focused on financial services; however, the life sciences and healthcare industry has the potential to be a new frontier for the technology as a novel solution to securely storing and sharing medical information,” the report stated.

While researchers have attempted to find solutions to address these issues, none have fully succeeded.

“There is no way to know at this point if blockchain will fulfill all its promises or potential,” the report stated. “Yet, to move it forward in a meaningful way, it requires leaders across commercial companies, government regulators and patients to participate in building the future.”  

Blockchain’s potential in healthcare hasn’t gone unnoticed. Forty-nine percent of executives are developing, piloting or implementing blockchain projects within their healthcare companies, according to a recent survey of 74 global healthcare companies by the PwC Health Research Institute. Belief in blockchain was also an issue, with 47 percent of companies saying lack of trust was a barrier to implementing blockchain.