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#Hashing it Out: Blockchain Terms Explained Part 2.

#Hashing it Out: Blockchain Terms Explained aims to help readers better understand the terminology behind our project and why it brings value to patients.

What does blockchain technology have to do with healthcare? You may already be familiar with this technology and its association with the cryptocurrency, “Bitcoin,” but now it’s being applied throughout various industries with new projects constantly emerging from some of the largest global companies. Healthcare is one of the leading sectors where blockchain technology is being applied, which is why our project PharmaLedger was formed.

Blockchain has many buzzwords and technical jargon surrounding it, which might be overwhelming for some. That’s why we have decided to explain these terms so that you can better understand our project, which uses blockchain technology at its core to build a more trustworthy healthcare ecosystem. This is the second article of our #Hashing it Out: Blockchain Terms Explained series, which will help you to better understand blockchain, the PharmaLeger project and how it relates to you, the patient.

1. Patient Empowerment

We are all patients in the healthcare industry and blockchain can grant us more control over our own health data. By gaining more control over how our data is used and by whom, patients are empowered to decide who has access to health records and under what conditions. Feeling empowered gives patients better confidence and trust in our healthcare, which is a necessity since having good health is something we all strive for.

What it means for healthcare

One of PharmaLedger’s main goals is to empower patients by granting more control over their health data in a more trusted healthcare environment. Blockchain allows patients to be the centre of control over their data with the help of smart contracts (see term below), while also maintaining privacy and security over this data. Another area in which blockchain technology can increase patient empowerment is its incorporation within the clinical trial process. Patient empowerment increases both accountability and responsibility but also requires integrity and authenticity from a patient perspective. You can find out more information under PharmaLedger’s Clinical Trial eRecruitment Use Case.

Let’s say that a given medicine is produced on a blockchain-enabled medical supply chain. After receiving the medicine, a patient can scan it on their phone to see important information via a mobile phone application, such as its authenticity (it was created at an authentic manufacturing facility), dosage and ingredients (also connected to the blockchain-enabled platform). A few weeks later, the manufacturing facility realises that the medicine needs to be recalled. Currently, would usually happen in a lengthy process, and often times a patient might not even be aware of the recall. Since the manufacturing company is connected to the same blockchain-enabled platform that the patient is connected to (via the phone application), the patient is instantly notified and gets real-time information about the recall. This increases trust and empowers patients to have better knowledge of the authenticity and safety of medical products. You can learn more about PharmaLedger’s Finished Goods Traceability and Anti-Counterfeiting use cases to find out more information about this.

2. Smart contract

Smart contracts are coded digitised agreements, where a computer code protocol performs a transaction on a blockchain. Legal contracts often involve many players to come into realisation, but smart contracts are encoded in software, where trust is placed in the technology rather than a lawyer or third party. Smart contracts happen automatically and autonomously, without needing someone to authorise certain transactions and transfer data or information.

An example of this could be honouring a “Will”’ when someone has passed away. A third party executor ensures that the family is given what had previously been proposed from the deceased family member. This can be time-consuming and many conflicts can arise between those involved in who is given what of the entitled estate. A smart contract would do this automatically by registering the death certificate without needing an executive to enforce the will, and all parties would need to comply with the conditions of the smart contract in order for them to receive their rights (property/finances etc.).

What it means for healthcare

Imagine as a patient, you digitally sign a smart contract that allows you to instantly share your healthcare data, patient information and medical record. Through an app, you would be able to grant a doctor access to your medical history or share certain information if participating in a clinical trial. Patients would be empowered by having control over their data with smart contracts as they will be able to see where their data is going and how it will be used. Currently, this is not available and maybe a root cause as to why the pharmaceutical industry is not trusted.

3. Interoperability 

Simply put, interoperability allows various technologies, such as computer software or information systems to efficiently communicate and exchange information with one another. It involves building coherent systems among users when the individual technical components are different and managed by different organizations. A lack of communication in a company that is complex and has many involved players can often lead to problems and misunderstandings. This is especially important for organisations that need to adapt and respond quickly, such as law enforcement or health departments. 

What it means for healthcare

There will be various blockchains involved throughout the healthcare ecosystem. Finding a way for the technology to be able to share data collectively is an example of interoperability, yet it is also an increasing problem as the ecosystem grows and innovative technology becomes implemented. Medical devices that collect data from patients often have their own software systems created by third-party brands, and finding a way how to be able to access this information, extract it and analyse it effectively is an example of interoperability. PharmaLedger’s IoT(Internet of Things) Medical Device Use Case uses blockchain to be able to collect various data from mobile apps or medical devices and to easily aggregate and anlyse it on the blockchain-based platform. IoT will allow multiple patient devices to connect via the internet and share data in an interoperable fashion. Blockchain technology will incorporate this with an element of trust and data integrity which is currently missing and it is the enabler for the data to become immutable in nature.

4. Traceability 

When a blockchain network is established between players along a supply chain, such as the manufacturer and distributor, a given product can be traced all along the chain. Other important details can also be shared, such as the product quality or important factors within the product, such as active pharmaceutical ingredients. Various industries such as the food or fashion industry are using blockchain to trace the products. For a fashion brand built on a blockchain supply chain, checking the authenticity of a purse would be easy to do so if all manufacturing factories are using the same system where data information is stored on the blockchain. This is especially useful where counterfeit products are prevalent. 

What it means for healthcare

Finished goods along a healthcare supply chain are currently hard to trace throughout the entire product cycle. Once a finished health product is shipped from manufacturer to a wholesaler, there is a lack of knowledge of where exactly the product is after it is shipped to various community pharmacies or hospitals. If a blockchain network is established, each player would be able to know where exactly that product is and where it originated. A patient could even scan the medical product and know important information such as its authenticity and allergens. If there were a product recall, which is often a manual process, blockchain would allow patients to find out about these recalls instantly. This could be done through an app, where all players involved would have access to applicable data along the finished goods supply chain. You can read more about the PharmaLedger Finished Goods Use Case to find out more about traceability in healthcare supply chains.  

5. Data literacy

The term data literacy means that information can be easily accessed, understood and communicated. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable sharing data because they don’t know exactly how it is being used, but it’s interesting to explore areas of our lives that are associated with poor data literacy. An example of poor data literacy is when our cell phones or social media profiles constantly gather information without our full knowledge. We always skim through the user updates with fine text, but it’s not that clear what is being gathered and by whom, yet we allow this to constantly happen. 

What it means for healthcare

Unlike social media platforms, PharmaLedger hopes to make it transparent for patients to understand how personal data is being used and by whom. For example, we might feel uncomfortable sharing personal data with a COVID-19 tracing application due to our geolocation data, but we allow social platforms to constantly gather personal data. Empowering patients and increasing their data literacy when it comes to sharing personal health data reaps many benefits for improved healthcare. What makes blockchain so unique, is that important information from personal health data can be extracted without revealing any personal information traced to an exact individual. All of this, of course, would be done with the person knowing how and what information is being shared, which is another benefit of blockchain that PharmaLedger is utilising in the Personalised Medicine use case.


This concludes part two of our Hashing it Out: Blockchain Terms Explained series. You can look forward to our article in this series that will be released in a few weeks. You’ll be able to better understand terms such as IoT devices, governance and self-sovereign identity (SSI), as well as how they apply to healthcare.

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