Categories: NewsOpinion

Blockchain technology to boost healthcare

The technology can help with medicine shortages through proper analysis at hospitals 

GLOBALLY, the usage of blockchain technology spans beyond cryptocurrencies. Created in 2008, it is a decentralised ledger that can be used to verify and trace multi-step transactions in healthcare, retail, supply chain, financial industries and more. Having reduced compliance costs and speed-up data transfer processing, users can also confirm secured transactions using this technology without the requirement for a central clearing authority. 

Closer to home, Malaysia started its efforts in blockchain technology in 2015, with the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) as important parties in the movement. Moving forward, the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) has said that Malaysia would be adopting blockchain by 2025, and many banking institutions are requested to explore and adopt this technology into their financial systems. 

From a healthcare perspective, every healthcare institution treats medical data as a highly privacy-sensitive element. The thought of giving patients control of access to their records and the exchange of health data between institutions raises the risks of data exposure and opens up issues around trust and security. However, blockchain’s distributed ledger technology in healthcare makes it easier to transfer patient medical records securely, improve healthcare data security, control the medication supply chain and aid genetic code study in the medical field — ensuring medical data integrity and privacy in Malaysia. 

Currently, the problems of the Medical Record System include a lack of security, difficulty in transferring medical records between multiple healthcare institutions due to system complications, human errors when recording, storing and transferring patients’ data, and unwanted tampering of data. These issues can become stumbling blocks that contribute greatly to even bigger, unfavourable problems such as heavy monetary losses to healthcare institutions due to complications with patient’s medical data, which can lead to legal consequences. 

Furthermore, when medical records are mixed-up, not up to date or stored incorrectly, this can severely endanger the well-being and health of a patient. Additionally, the inefficiency of an antiquated Medical Record System will surely jeopardise the patient’s transfer process between different medical institutes due to complications with the patient’s medical data exchange. 

Post-Covid-19, Malaysia for one has been dealing with issues related to the healthcare system. MySejahtera turned into a national scandal after the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) revealed that the Covid-19 contact tracing mobile application had been developed for the government without a contract with the application developers. 

Separately, the then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin created a Healthcare Work Culture Improvement Task Force (HWCITF) to examine the purportedly toxic working culture in public hospitals. 

Moreover, the private general practitioner (GP) clinics, pharmacies and hospitals in Malaysia suffered major shortages of various prescription and over-the-counter medications since last May, due to Covid-19 lockdowns in Shanghai, China, and Russia’s war in Ukraine. More than an acute problem, the extraordinarily severe drug shortage in Malaysia this year reveals the need to boost the country’s medicine security for future international issues in the global pharmaceutical supply chain, as Malaysia is a net importer of pharmaceutical products.

The collaborative role of blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) will be able to resolve and more so prevent such issues related to the healthcare system. 

It is known that the MySejahtera application had infused blockchain technology into its system during its conceptualisation. The application could have functioned better had it covered the whole process ranging from user registration, vaccines supply-chain, contact to Pusat Pemberian Vaksin (PPV), medical officers and more. 

Meanwhile, the issues of workload and toxic working culture in public hospitals also can be solved if the Ministry of Health (MoH) integrates digital innovation into its systems. Many manual processes can be automated and data transfer from one doctor to another can be updated timely at their fingertips, fostering a favourable environment between patients and doctors. 

Blockchain technology can also help with medicine shortages through proper analysis at hospitals. Through this data analysis with untampered data, it can help to solve the issue in the pharmaceutical supply chain by establishing proof of ownership. 

Before reaching patients, drug ownership changes from the manufacturer to the distributor, and then to the pharmacist by easily cloning Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. Using blockchain’s ability, more features can be periodically added to the chain. 

There are several processes and new regulatory procedures related to blockchain that need to be standardised and coordinated. As a catalyst for change, Malaysia should look into this as a core pillar to move the needle forward. Blockchain technology is ready, and so are we. 

  • Assoc Prof Ts Dr Afizan Azman is an associate professor at Taylor’s University’s School of Computer Science, Faculty of Innovation and Technology.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition

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