As a healthcare professional working in Africa, I have always been intrigued by the inability of our healthcare systems to generate and operate with consistent data over a period of time. So when the opportunity presented itself to share some of my thoughts on emerging technologies and how they can positively impact the healthcare sector, I decided to pay more attention to a particular technology that has the potential to change how we store useful data in healthcare: Blockchain technology.
According to builtin.com, Blockchain technology represents a distributed electronic ledger containing digital records, transactions or events that are protected with advanced encryption. The data is difficult to tamper with but is updatable through a consensus algorithm agreeable to all connected network nodes. Where the technology is adopted, there will be full transparency, no need for centralized massive servers to manage the data and storage issues can be eliminated completely. So why has there been little effort for adoption in healthcare where we probably need it the most?
First, let’s debunk the myth that blockchain is synonymous with cryptocurrency. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the technology is being adopted in industries like finance, real estate, supply chain and even agriculture. We also know that many African startups are currently researching or have already developed solutions that run entirely on it. From a data management point of view, there is no doubt that the blockchain technology can solve important healthcare problems like safekeeping of patients’ private information, development of multicenter disease registries, network and internet issues, and improper handling of data integrity. However, in reality, many of our healthcare institutions are still struggling with the shift from paper-based information to electronic record keeping. Very few hospitals can operate end to end with electronic medical records and patients still fill multiple forms from registration to consultation.
To be able to deploy this technology in healthcare, governments and private sectors; not only will there be the need to provide infrastructure like computers, internet services and IT support to the hospitals but there will also be the need to ensure that access to the data is regulated due to the sensitivity of patient information. The question of patient’s rights to have access and share their personal data will also need to be tackled via policies and regulations, alongside technology deployment
To bring in a more optimistic view to the future of blockchain in healthcare, progress is being made especially in many African countries in eastern and southern Africa where governments are beginning to look at blockchain as an opportunity to improve resource management. Some researchers and academics on the continent are starting to look into the current challenges with data management and leaning towards blockchain as a tool that can be used to efficiently manage resources in the health sector. Several studies have successfully demonstrated that the existing issues electronic healthcare records systems can be tackled through blockchain-based solutions like patients ability to monitor their private data by themselves, regardless of geographical location.
In essence, Blockchain technology is expected to improve medical record management, accelerate clinical and biomedical research, and advance biomedical and healthcare data ledger. When patients information is accessible and accurate, this increases the chances for better diagnosis of diseases, and even more efficacious treatment. ‘Data is King’ isn’t only a true statement in the stricter applications of technology, it rings true for health care as well.
Estelle Dogbo is a business leader with over a decade of experience leading teams and projects in global healthcare corporations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Estelle has had the privilege to lead high performing teams to success in mature and established multinational organisations as well as dynamic and rapidly growing start-ups in highly volatile markets. Her most recent experience was in her role as Country Manager and Vice-President Diagnostics, at 54gene, Africa’s first genomics start-up, where she successfully led the establishment, scaling and operations of the company, amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Estelle is an advocate for organisational development and a strong promoter of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.