Introduction

The continuity of traditional healthcare models seems unlikely with the breakthrough of disruptive technologies. Historically, the healthcare sector has been slow to implement technological tools that have quickly transformed other areas of people's daily lives. In particular, this is because of:

  • the strict regulation of activities in the healthcare sector;
  • data protection and doctor-patient confidentiality requirements; and
  • resources and financing.

However, a new model that seeks to empower patients and give them autonomy follows an old medical paternalistic model. Today, the use of online applications allows patients to have active and close interaction with medical professionals through the provision of real-time information about symptoms and daily routine. Therefore, the drive for new digital health is advancing. Health technology must be committed, above all, to patient safety, autonomy and privacy, while also aiming to reduce costs, improve patient experiences and better the quality of treatments.

Blockchain technology – benefits to healthcare industry

Among many of the new trends and behavioural changes in this modern scenario, a promising solution to address the interoperability, integrity and security challenges presented in the healthcare sector seems to be blockchain technology. Primarily used in financial transactions – another sector where privacy is a significant concern – a blockchain is basically a distributed virtual ledger. In essence, it is a public and decentralised structure that performs safe transactions for anything valuable through secure encryption codes. Thus, in addition to bank transactions, a blockchain may be an effective tool to record critical information (eg, health data) in a virtually incorruptible database. Since data transmitted via a blockchain cannot be deleted or altered, blockchain technology may be a perfect fit in Brazil, where it is estimated that annual expenses, including unnecessary or overpriced medical procedures, in the healthcare sector will reach approximately R22 billion in 2017 (around $8.5 billion), according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Supplementary Health.

There are many applications for this new technology. Beyond solving breaches in data systems, blockchain technology may allow the healthcare industry to access past and real-time patient data, verifying a patient's digital identity, genetic data or prescription history. In the pharmaceutical industry, the idea of a digital ledger is already being used to track each step of the supply chain at an individual drug and product level, which helps to eliminate counterfeits and frauds. Clinical researchers will also be able to benefit from this new system once it can hold an exponential volume of data sharing and, at the same time, make patients' identities untraceable. These are only a few examples of non-currency uses of such technology.

In addition to registering medical data, blockchain may be used in financial applications for healthcare treatments not covered by health insurers – for example, the initiative based on blockchain technology called DentaCoin, a cryptocurrency which seeks to improve access to oral hygiene worldwide by offering alternative ways to pay for dental treatment.

Comment

As a disruptive technology, blockchain has been accepted and advanced quickly. However, certain challenges must be carefully considered – in particular, investments to adapt and scale new blockchain initiatives and, most importantly, how to regulate these advances properly. As such, the IT and health industry, patients and policymakers must work closely with one another to build an integrated, efficient and realistic environment for the many healthcare-specific uses of blockchain technology.

In Brazil, the shared public-private health system may make it more challenging to enact this technology, namely in terms of interoperability. However, it is paramount that stakeholders in this sector recognise the benefits of implementing a more integrated and secure model, which will increase efficiency and, above all, benefit patients.

For further information on this topic please contact Elysangela de Oliveira Rabelo at TozziniFreire Advogados by telephone (+55 11 50 86 50 00) or email (erabelo@tozzinifreire.com.br). The TozziniFreire Advogados website can be accessed at www.tozzinifreire.com.br.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.