In a previous article, we talked about how Blockchain technologies hold great disruptive potentials beyond the finance sector. In fact, many industries stand to be vastly improved or transformed by blockchain technologies, and one particular sector that many innovators are looking into transforming is the healthcare industry.
Our previous article detailed how blockchain technologies can solve one of healthcare delivery’s many pressing problems. But like a swiss army knife, there really is no shortage of ways in which blockchain technologies can be applied to the industry to solve its endemic problems.
In this article, we’ll be going over two interrelated problems in healthcare that result in the deaths of many thousands of people every year, and how innovators are using blockchain-based technologies to help combat some of these pressing issues: drug counterfeits and the integrity of the drug supply chain.
The Drug Supply Chain – Or, You can’t just FedEx Meds
Transporting medicines and vaccines from manufacturers to your local healthcare provider isn’t as simple as wrapping it in a FedEx package and then forgetting about it. Many drugs need to be kept within a certain temperature range in order to retain their effectiveness. If doctors and nurses aren’t able to reliably discern and track which drugs in a delivered batch are no longer viable, patients may be served substandard drugs.
Counterfeits – A bit more deadly than your average Rolex knockoff
Another widespread problem that comes with a lack of granular tracking data and imperfect supply chain management are counterfeits. A study conducted by the WHO revealed that substandard and falsified antimalarial drugs contributed to an additional 72,000 to 267,000 deaths annually in sub-Saharan Africa alone – meaning that an estimated 2.1 to 4.9% of all malaria deaths in the region have occurred as a result of these substandard and falsified antimalarials.
And that’s only numbers for drugs meant to combat one disease, in one region. Think about how many lives are affected by counterfeit drugs when you include the rest of the world.
How will Blockchain solve this?
If blockchain technology is integrated into supply chain management information systems, data stored on the blockchain would enjoy a greater level of security due to blockchain’s inherent properties. Copies of records stored on the blockchain would be shared with nodes situated throughout the chain, and any alterations or additions to the chain must be verified and reconciled through a consensus-based mechanism. This decentralized, consensus-based method of ensuring data integrity adds a layer of transparency and security that current, centralized supply chain and delivery systems do not provide.
This will mean that information such as temperature records would be much more difficult to tamper with, and counterfeit drugs that are not registered on the chain will be more difficult to pass off as legitimate drugs. Healthcare service providers will be able to access the shared ledger to confidently determine if the drug they’re handling is of standard and legitimate.
What projects are currently underway to realize these concepts?
Modum is a project that leverages IoT and blockchain technology to automate and simplify supply chains and provide data that can be trusted. Their first solution for last-stage shipments, MODsense, combines a security sensor with environmental monitoring capabilities with blockchain technology to ensure that the data collected is immutable and tamper-proof. These environmental monitoring capabilities include temperature monitoring, and one of MODsense’s main applications is right within the purview of healthcare – pharma distribution. Its sensor logs temperature data, and this data can be relied upon to ensure that the drug holds up to regulatory compliance and quality checks.
Officially listed in the WHO’s Performance, Quality and Safety Program, Modum is now prequalified such that member states of the WHO along with the United Nations’ purchasing agencies can be assured of its suitability for immunization programs and the world-wide vaccine supply chain.
Research has also gone into combating counterfeit drugs. Earlier this year, Portland State University Researcher Nirupama Bulusu published a blockchain protocol aimed at combating the presence of counterfeit drugs on the pharmaceutical market. This protocol includes storing information such as product serial numbers, expiration dates, and product names onto a digital product tag that will be recorded on the blockchain.
As the healthcare industry is looking to further innovate and modernize incumbent, centralized technologies, it’s important to remember that the biggest winner here isn’t the projects or healthcare providers. It’s the patients whose lives will be positively impacted by more accountable healthcare delivery systems.
Which other industries do you think can stand to benefit from Blockchain technologies? Is the answer all? Let us know in the comments below, or get in touch with us HERE to share your thoughts!