How IOT and blockchain may streamline transition to digital healthcare

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Electronic medical records were the first step towards data-driven healthcare but now the digital disruption takes a truly audacious aim – collecting all possibly useful health data on the broadest scale and making it accessible for immediate and long-term use by patients, doctors, and scientists. The first part has been effectively tackled with the help of the IoT, an umbrella technology for connected medical devices, wearables, and body sensors.


What still remains obscure is how to bridge separate data silos of healthcare organizations and enable secure access to their medical data. That’s where blockchain may play its brightest role so far.


FROM DOCTORS TO DATA WITH IOT


Traditional healthcare used to function mostly within a designated clinical setting – patients visit their doctors, take clinical tests, receive treatment. At other times you were left to keeping up with the prescribed medication routine, healthy lifestyle, and regular check-ups. On practice, all of these offer little insight into patient’s health dynamics on a continuous basis, resulting in late diagnoses and lack of knowledge for both patient and doctor.


The radical change in collecting 24\7 health data was brought about by IoT-enabled wearable devices. More than just allowing people to monitor their own health, these devices open up several crucial pathways to better healthcare. One is more precise and timely diagnosis. For example, smart watches are soon expected to be used to detect arrhythmias, which often goes unnoticed by many people. Sweat-sensing is another promising type of remote diagnostics, which can detect early changes in specific molecular biomarkers without the need for an invasive blood test. The first prototypes are already on trials.


IoT has been also utilized for more complex medical devices, which allow collecting a broader array of medical data or even provide home-based treatment. Prenatal care belts can save tens of thousand of lives every year by continuously monitoring whether health parameters of an expecting mother and a baby are within the norm. Portable devices for home-based hemodialysis provide enormous relief for patients with diabetes. There are also numerous applications aimed at treating a range of mental conditions, such as ADHD, opioid addiction, schizophrenia, anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, depression; they have already been used to complement conventional drugs for the best results.


Most importantly, these new medical devices and applications allow healthcare organizations to have an unprecedented view into patients’ day-to-day health stats. When paired with AI on a large scale, this data can be used to provide automated medical diagnosis, suggest treatment, and identify risk factors for any given person. Continuous aggregation of medical data will offer patients (and their doctors) more understanding of their health history, while medical companies could use it to create new AI applications and improve existing methods of treatment in a much faster way.     


However, the fundamental problem is that right now health systems are too fragmented to enable the uninhibited flow of information between different parties. There are also strict security requirements and the issue of trust that must be addressed with extreme diligence. It is a catch-22 situation in which greater amounts of data aggravate security concerns, which in turn inhibit the potential of data for modern healthcare. At this juncture where all conventional methods cannot rise to the challenge, blockchain may offer a radical breakthrough we all needed.



HOW TO MAKE IOT AND BLOCKCHAIN WORK


While both technologies have a vast array of their own healthcare applications, making them work together could be a clear win-win. Data is a lifeblood of modern healthcare; more reliable, accurate, and complete, it allows healthcare providers to come up with better treatment plans and improve individual outcomes. However, great times call for certain changes.  


One is open standards required for blockchain solutions to operate on scale. IoT had a similar issue with different standards, protocols, and approaches back in the day. However, it smoothed itself out through practice and competition. Some approaches gained better traction and became de-facto industry standards, while others got their narrower niches. Blockchain may require more cooperation in the first place because this technology rests on a distributed, decentralized model

Last update: Mar 23, 2018

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