How does web3 improve the healthcare infrastructure?
With the steady and gradual shift of the web from the centralized web 2.0 to the decentralized web3, new use cases are emerging in this third iteration. Healthcare is one such industry where web3 is finding several practical applications.
We have all been seeing the use cases of web 2.0 around us. When the second iteration of the internet emerged, it introduced innovative technologies like telemedicine, Electronic Health Records, healthcare applications and more into healthcare. Although it proved beneficial to the human race, many things are at risk to access these technologies. Our data is at risk frequently due to the lack of transparency in the centralized servers. Anyone with access can easily tamper with the data and edit or delete it. This is a major concern in healthcare and among patients who access healthcare institutions. But this is not the case with web3.
Web3 in healthcare is revolutionizing data management of patients and assisting in having organized medical records. Day-by-day various services and solutions are being built in web3 for healthcare. It shows the rise and prominence of web3 in healthcare.
Web3 for healthcare is, thus, beneficial, offering several use cases like tracing fake medicines, data security, metaverse surgeries and more. Let us see how web3 can be used in healthcare and its use cases in the healthcare domain.
What is web3?
Web3 is the third iteration of the web that gives users the power to own and control their data. Unlike the centralized ecosystem of the present web 2.0, web3 establishes a decentralized environment where data is distributed, and no central authority interferes in user data control. The present web, or the read-write web, has its own fair share of flaws like centralization, censorship, data leakage and more which is where web3 comes as a savior.
The read-write-own web3, backed by blockchain technology, establishes a trustless, peer-to-peer and permissionless ecosystem. It offers the following benefits for the users.
- Censorship resistance
- Decentralized Autonomous Organizations(DAOs)
- Self-sovereign identity
- Native payments
Web3 for healthcare can offer the above benefits and more. Let us see how web3 and healthcare go hand in hand.
Web 2.0 and healthcare
The healthcare technologies that emerged with web 2.0 in the mid-2000s is known as Healthcare 2.0. Health 2.0 changed the conventional method of healthcare systems and reformed it into a more effective system. It utilized various sets of technologies, involving telemedicine, connected health, mHealth and more, to give patients insights and control over their information.
With web 2.0., patients leverages the benefits of healthcare applications and platforms to track their health record and check how healthy they are. There are applications for food intake tracking like MyFitnessPal, hydration tracking like Waterlogged, fitness and workout sessions, meditation and Yoga like Down Dog, mental health like Talkspace and much more that can keep track of your physical and psychological well-being.
Health 2.0 is defined as “participatory health care characterized by the ability to rapidly share, classify and summarize individual health information with the goals of improving health care systems, experiences and outcomes via integration of patients and stakeholders.” The web 2.0 tools for healthcare enable social networking, openness, participation, and collaboration within and between user groups. It vastly developed the traditional e-health model that emerged in the 1900s through health-related websites or portals, Electronic Health Records(EHR), virtual communities and online support groups, home care and chronic disease management system and telemedicine and teleconsultation applications. Moreover, it helped rural communities access healthcare.
Although it revolutionized healthcare and transformed the system, it had its flaws. It poses several security threats and data vulnerabilities. Healthcare organizations having weakly protected websites, web servers and databases are at risk of cybersecurity attacks. Hackers and cybercriminals always search for misconfigured, exposed or weakly protected databases to take advantage of them and ask for ransom.
Healthcare institutions handling electronic Protected Health Information(ePHI) should possess ample technical security measures, especially data encryption, which can put your institution at risk. Moreover, outdated medical devices and equipment lacking the latest threat defenses, the absence of documented cybersecurity policies and procedures, and inadequate cyber awareness can all lead to data insecurity.
As much as web 2.0 developed the healthcare system, it has also created greater threats in data vulnerability and other issues. So, the emergence of web3 is a great relief in the healthcare domain. Let us see how web3 in health can benefit the industry after knowing the basics of web3.
Web3 in healthcare
Web3 in healthcare is phenomenal as it brings innovation to the medical field. The three components of web3 that can revolutionize the healthcare industry include:
- Blockchain – Web3 is built on blockchain technology, a distributed, encrypted database, allowing secure storage and transfer of data that the owner of the data can only access.
- Metaverse – Metaverse is a virtual world powered by various technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain and more to offer an immersive space for users.
- NFTs – Non-Fungible Tokens are unique, irreplaceable tokens backed by the blockchain to record the ownership of digital or physical assets.
Blockchain, the core of web3, enables healthcare professionals to store patient information through its immutable digital ledger technology securely. These data cannot be altered or tampered with, as they are distributed among nodes. On the other hand, a metaverse can transform digital healthcare like telemedicine and teleconsultation into a more engaging and immersive life-like space.
The blockchain-based tokens of web3, like NFTs, give ownership rights to their users. It enables the healthcare ecosystem to be patient-centric while also decentralizing data by transferring ownership to individuals. This marks a great shift in healthcare.
Web3 use cases in healthcare
Patient data management and data ownership
Web3 for healthcare is predominantly used for proper data management in major healthcare institutions. Each patient approaching a hospital has unique symptoms, weaknesses, diseases, and treatment. So, each requires a separate and complete medical record which can be hectic for hospital management administration, as there can be hundreds to thousands of patients accessing the institution every day. This can result in unorganized data management with information overload.
Moreover, health records are mostly stored in centralized servers to which patients have no access, and they are robbed of their right to information.
Blockchain, as the fundamental of web3, can assist in handling patient data. It offers a structured way to store data in the immutable ledger of records. Any changes in the information are visible to people who can access it due to its transparency. Moreover, the patients control their data and have the complete right to provide access to others. So, only the right medical professionals can access it. Let us see how it works.
The healthcare providers store a patient’s health record on the blockchain using smart contracts. The generated public key or unique ID is then required to access the data. Any doctor who wants access to the data must possess the public key or ID. Without the public key, no data shall be revealed to healthcare professionals, and the patient holding the key can share it with the professional whenever needed. This makes patients the owner of their data, offering privacy to them and their sensitive information.
The present healthcare data management is prone to security vulnerabilities and can be easily hacked. It requires too much trust in the centralized servers, and the patients expect services not to misuse the data or change privacy rules. Unfortunately, many instances in the past prove that these centralized servers cannot be trusted blindly.
Moreover, with the increase in data breaches day by day, it is creating a major concern for patients worldwide. According to the statistics provided by the HIPAA journal, in January 2022, 50 healthcare data of 500 or more were reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Civil Rights (OCR). One such major breach reported in January affected more than 1.35 million Broward Health patients.
Blockchain technology, being a decentralized, distributed and immutable ledger, is tamper-proof. The data is distributed over nodes, so an attacker needs to attack each node in the network to hack, alter or delete the data, which is near impossible. Moreover, accessing the data needs the patients’ permission. Due to its transparency, tampering with the data is also impossible. This allows healthcare providers to store sensitive information without fear of data breaches safely.
Thus, unlike the centralized system, this decentralized healthcare system structure would help reduce numerous data security issues present today. No one can misuse, access or sell your sensitive and personal data without your permission, offering privacy and more security.
Drug counterfeit control
Pharmaceutical counterfeiting is becoming a major concern in the healthcare industry due to the lack of transparency in the pharmaceutical supply chain. Illicit drug manufacturers tamper with and counterfeit the original drug, resulting in drugs containing reduced quantities of required ingredients or active ingredients not mentioned on the label. This can affect the health of the patient consuming it and further worsen their disease. Although drug manufacturers are finding measures to solve the menace of counterfeit drugs, illegal manufacturers find alternatives to sell their products faking as genuine drugs.
Web3 in healthcare would help handle and decrease counterfeit drugs in the market. Blockchain offers security and drug traceability. In a blockchain ecosystem, each transaction details are added to the blocks, which cannot be edited, altered or deleted. The transaction records are also timestamped. So, if the entire supply chain is moved to the blockchain and each drug is registered on the chain before circulating, the issue of pharmaceuticals counterfeiting can be resolved.
If any drug record cannot be found on the blockchain, it can be easily identified as forged medicine and eliminated from the supply chain before reaching consumers. This confirms the authenticity of medicines. It can also be utilized to track the distribution of drugs, identify inefficiencies, find out any changes made to the supply stock and more.
The pharmaceutical supply chain security can be further strengthened if each drug has a token ID (NFT) that can streamline the tracking process. Moreover, each NFT metadata will store the uniqueness or information of each drug.
Currently, technologies like AR, VR, robotics and minimally invasive surgeries in the medical field are rising, especially among leading hospitals and universities. It offers a 3D view of a patient’s body, helping doctors to plan and perform surgical procedures. But, AR and VR, on their own, cannot result in making clinical decisions, and metaverse, however, can satisfy the needs of medical professionals to conduct proper surgical operations.
Integrating many technologies like AR, AI, VR, 3D reconstruction, blockchain and more, the metaverse offers a unique ecosystem to conduct surgeries. With metaverse, patients needing surgery not necessarily practiced in their native country can collaborate with doctors worldwide. These doctors can then make a plan by going through the patient profile and deciding what is best for them.
In some cases, esteemed surgeons collaborate with surgeons of another place to assist in surgeries through the metaverse. This has proved effective in countries where ailments and surgeries for a particular disease or disorder are unavailable. The 360-degree view of the patient’s body through the metaverse makes such surgeries possible and helps locate the affected location, such as a lung tumor.
The current medical training practices are limited to 2D images and videos, which students can only watch and learn. Many medical training institutions allow medical students to practice on corpses, which has ethical laws and issues. The rise of metaverse technologies is seen as a relief in this regard. Various medical training institutions already use AR, VR and MR technologies to teach students about human anatomy.
Metaverse can stimulate real-world procedures and enables the students to watch a 3D view of cellular level details of the human body. The 3D visualization contributes to offering an immersive experience, social communication, and engaging environment without involving any risk factors. Students can also conduct virtual surgeries in the metaverse and get hands-on experience before engaging in real-life surgeries.
Overall, metaverse helps students diagnose diseases, learn human anatomy, pre-surgical preparation and more.
Patient medical record and monetization
In the present system, if a patient approaches different medical institutions for treatment, each hospital keeps a separate medical record file for the patient. Say, if the patient goes to 10 different hospitals, they will have 10 medical record files in all these hospitals. This can result in a fragmented healthcare ecosystem where one single master document of the patient’s medical record does not exist. The sensitive patient health records are scattered across various platforms in an unstructured manner.
If web3 technologies are implemented for medical record keeping and management, each record can be sorted and arranged in one place by the patient themselves. They can also access the medical record if they shift to other healthcare professionals. This way, they do not have to carry around their files and explain their medical history from doctor to doctor.
Furthermore, patients can monetize their medical records by converting them to NFTs. They can mint the records into NFTs, then store them in the blockchain. These NFTs are traceable; no one but the patient can access them. They can then sell it to medical professionals or third parties willing to utilize the data for research or to develop new medical products.
Web3 has the potential to bring radical changes to the healthcare world. It can decentralize the system and bring data back to the users, who should have been the data owners right from the start. However, the data is currently under the control of the healthcare giants, who have the complete authority to do anything with it. They may also sell it to third parties to gain huge profits without anyone’s knowledge.
Integrating web3 in healthcare can give the power over data back to users and help handle a structured data management system. The data stored in Web3 is distributed, personalized and traceable, eventually bringing transparency, accessibility and affordability to the healthcare ecosystem.
LeewayHertz is a web3 development company, and if you are planning to build a web3 app for your healthcare institution, our experts can help you materialize your vision.
Akash’s ability to build enterprise-grade technology solutions has attracted over 30 Fortune 500 companies, including Siemens, 3M, P&G and Hershey’s.
Akash is an early adopter of new technology, a passionate technology enthusiast, and an investor in AI and IoT startups.
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