New emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, or blockchain technology have seen increased interest throughout many different sectors in recent years. Especially in the light of digitalization, the healthcare sector is one of the prime use cases for new technological innovation. In countries like Germany for example, where current the degree of digitalization is comparably low and the health-related expenses are high, much hope is placed into new emerging technologies and automatization. But despite every potential, increased digitalization, and the implementation of new technologies could provide, there are still limitations. Particularly from an ethical perspective, serious concerns and questions need to be considered.
This paper explores the risks and opportunities of blockchain technology in the healthcare system. Specifically, it focuses on current (technical and non-technical) limitations of the implementation of blockchain technology in current systems, possible use cases, and ethical concerns arising due to an increased level of digitalization and the use of blockchain technology. In this context, blockchain technology refers to a distributed ledger, where certain data (e.g., transactions) is stored in blocks, that are cryptographically secured and chained together. In comparison to traditional databases, there is no central form of storage. Participants of the blockchain network (e.g., nodes) all store an exact copy of the ledger, containing the whole data history, eliminating a single point of failure. Before an additional block containing new data can be added to the chain, the participants of the network have to reach consensus. As soon as the new block is validated by the majority of participants, it is added to the chain permanently.
To address the key research questions focusing on possible limitations, use cases, and ethical considerations due to an implementation of blockchain technology in the healthcare system, extensive literature research was conducted. Due to the more transparent, decentralized, and trustless architecture, the results identified promising use cases and significant advantages of blockchain technology in the healthcare system. But despite every potential, there are still limitations. The results indicate a clear lack of ethical guidelines and frameworks, as well as important ethical considerations and questions, related to the digitalization and the implementation of new technological innovations in the healthcare system.
The results suggest that the implementation of blockchain technology in the healthcare system could provide significant advantages over current solutions. Even today, it could provide major benefits for every participant of the system and especially the patients. Still, there are a couple of technical and non-technical limitations that need to be addressed in the near future to benefit from new technology innovations like blockchain technology. Besides extensive user education, a change of mind needs to happen in society and especially on a governmental level. Especially from an ethical perspective, new guidelines and frameworks need to be established to provide the necessary environment to implement and use blockchain technology as well as other innovations successfully.
Keywords: blockchain, healthcare, medicine, digitalization, technology, ethics
About the Author
Lukas Vogel, based in Germany, is a medical doctor at a local hospital, Founding Member of the Global Blockchain Initiative, and Local Hub Lead for Germany.
He has been in the blockchain space for nearly 10 years and is familiar with basically every topic arising like Mining, Trading, ICOs, DEFI of NFTs. He is currently working on a beginners book for bitcoin and is passionate about educating people about bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies. Interested in a digitalized future, he is focused on blockchain in the healthcare sector.
Lukas holds a Master’s degree in Blockchain Technologies, a Bachelor of Science in Biology, and is a licensed medical doctor. In addition, he is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program and is soon to receive his doctorate in medicine.