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Blockchain Technology: The Next Digital Platform in Healthcare

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Revolutionizing trust in everything from clinical trial results to combating counterfeit drugs

In an era where we willingly share our lives on social media platforms every day we remain wary about parting with information on our health. This lack of confidence combined with the sheer volume of shared data in healthcare today represents a major challenge to maintaining trust and transparency, yet it is this data that potentially holds the key to changing the entire healthcare industry.

The solution to keeping health information secure may lie in an emerging technology called blockchain. Initially developed for digital currencies like Bitcoin, which allows anonymous parties to engage in secure, private transactions over an open or even public network, blockchain is already being used in pilots for health data analytics, medical device security and electronic patient records. Beyond that is the potential to apply the technology to everything, from more efficient clinical trials and speedier approvals of new therapies to reducing counterfeiting and increasing transparency about cost.

Blockchain is really about industrializing trust
Milind Kamkolkar, Sanofi’s Chief Data Officer
Infographic about how Blockchain works

Fighting counterfeit drugs

As blockchain technology becomes more prevalent in healthcare, the technology’s trust factor could deliver much needed benefits in the fight against counterfeit drugs, an issue that has reached near epidemic proportions. The World Health Organization reported in November that one in 10 medical products in developing nations is either counterfeit or substandard. The problem has deteriorated over the past decade, and while it is more pronounced in developing nations, it has serious global consequences – including the risk of deaths caused when there is too little or no active ingredient in the counterfeit product.

Blockchain technology would make it possible to create a system that would track and trace a medicine from production to patient. If that information were available to government health care systems, pharmacies and patients, it would become significantly more difficult for fake medicines to make their way to patients undetected. It also would help all the participants in the supply chain meet stronger government requirements, such as the Drug Supply Chain Security Act in the U.S.

“We’re seeing consortiums forming already to deal with this issue,” said Kamkolkar.

There’s a new competitive economic period coming, and trust and transparency are going to be a great differentiator
Richie Etwaru, a futurist and Chief Digital Officer at IQVIA, a healthcare analytics company

Improving Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are another vital aspect of healthcare where the element of trust for patients is crucial. Blockchain technology could be used to ensure the necessary data is collected and shared where it’s needed while maintaining patient privacy or proprietary information. The result could be reduced costs and increased efficiency, said Remi Chossinand, Head of the Digital Clinical Solution Center for Sanofi.

It could also be useful in clinical trials for rare diseases, where very few patients qualify to participate. Blockchain could be used to exchange data, while preserving the confidentiality required in a clinical study. This new approach would reduce the time required for drug development, getting treatments to patients faster.

By using blockchain technology to share some information with other trials, by mutualizing with our competitors, it can effectively divide the development cost of drugs
Remi Chossinand, Head of the Digital Clinical Solution Center for Sanofi

Changing the Patient Data Relationship

Blockchain could also eventually be used as the foundation for universal electronic health records, but with one important difference from the proprietary technologies now in use: Who controls the data in the record.

By giving patients more control and ownership of their health information, blockchain technology could shift the relationship between patients and payers or pharmaceutical researchers. Because the data in those records can be valuable when it comes to predicting costs, understanding outcomes or identifying potential clinical trial candidates, we could envisage companies paying individuals for access to that information.

“You can set it up so the patient owns the block ID, and so it becomes their data,” Kamkolkar said. “It creates a new kind of commerce where patients charge payers for their information.”

On the Horizon

Innovation is a natural ally of healthcare, so blockchain technology is an obvious way forward in Sanofi’s future digital strategies to revolutionize not only our research and development but also our whole approach to healthcare.