Published on: December 2016
Category: Op eds
Recently, the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government hosted the Dubai Smart Cities Forum with a theme, “Blockchain and The Next Wave of Smart Cities Technologies.” This blockchain concept may be one of the most transformative ideas to impact the world since the Internet. This realization got me thinking about UAE healthcare and the implications of using blockchain technology. It is commonly noted that blockchain represents a new organization of all activity through the integration of humans and technology. The usual understanding is that blockchain technology may be quite useful in finance since there are ‘cryptocurrencies’ such as bitcoin, which is one of the applications of the blockchain concept. More recently, there have been a lot of global hype around whether blockchain can optimize and secure healthcare. Let’s consider, the ‘KPMG 2015 UAE Cyber Security Survey’ findings of at least one-third of UAE firms faced cyber security breaches in 2015. Could such firms include healthcare institutions? Furthermore, the UAE is on the list of the top 10 destinations targeted by cyber criminals where such cyber threats occur in key sectors, for example, financial services, oil & gas, technology, and government. Could this mean that the healthcare sector is not immune from such attacks?
One of the many nightmares in healthcare is to have a breach of its network where all the data could become readily available to almost anyone. A blockchain system can prevent breaches by using multi-signatures and cryptography. According to research reports, the health data is muddled onto the blockchain and then using multi-signatures, users can gain access only if there is approval from the appropriate number of authorized people. How is this possible? For instance, when it comes to storage and access of electronic medical records, there could be a rule that for patient records to be accessed, the doctor, nurse and patient must all approve.
The blockchain technology is a public transaction ledger built in a network structure based on cryptographic principles where there is no need to have a centralized intermediary. According to reports, any medical records and data may be encoded into the blockchain and transacted, validated, or preserved in a much more efficient manner than at present. Personal health records may be stored and administered by blockchain. Once such data is recorded and confirmed on the blockchain network, it is nearly impossible to modify or erase the information. Besides, users such as doctors and other parties will have devices with key-permission into the records.
One of the benefits of blockchain technology includes improving data integrity and security through enhancement of data management of electronic health records, health information exchanges, and medical insurance claims. Another benefit may include an opportunity for improving quality standards when managing healthcare records, insurance claims, and patient medical data. Additionally, blockchain technology could optimize relationships between healthcare and insurance companies. Bearing in mind that the UAE National Health Agenda 2021 is aiming to achieve a world-class healthcare system, the UAE Government is eager to work in collaboration with all health authorities in the country to have all public and private hospitals accredited according to clear national and international quality standards of medical services and staff.
We know that most blockchain technology in healthcare is not ready for mainstream deployment but the subject still warrants some debate on its implementation in the UAE healthcare institutions. Who should be involved? The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, the Health Authority in Abu Dhabi, the Dubai Health Authority, the Healthcare Strategy and Policy Unit at Prime Minister’s Office. Such benefits of having blockchain technology provide the opportunity in developing newer platforms for healthcare policy makers and decision-makers to brainstorm, debate and discuss technological healthcare infrastructures for improving the security and management of healthcare records and reducing regulatory and compliance costs.