The Potential Role of Blockchain in Teleradiology

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Blockchain might have application for the secure storage and transmission of diagnostic images.

An increasing number of industries are adopting the use of blockchain technology. These include financial services, media and telecom, transportation, and more. In 2018, ComputerWorld called blockchain “the most disruptive technology in decades.” (1) Does blockchain have a role in teleradiology, too?

From a business point of view, blockchain has many technological advantages. It can significantly reduce storage costs and speed up operational efficiency. Also, activities can be carried out much faster on a decentralized network architecture. Additionally, it might be an underlying technology to help address “issues such as fraud, inefficiencies, and data privacy,” according to Diagnostic Imaging, which reported that an estimated $455 billion is lost in global healthcare annually due to fraudulent means. (2)

These benefits seem to have an application in medical imaging for the secure storage and transmission of diagnostic images.

image of blockchain architecture
Blockchain architecture might play a role in teleradiology in the future.

An introduction to blockchain technology

Blockchain was conceptualized in the early 1990s. The idea was to secure information with the help of a time stamp. The data were recorded in individual blocks. This concept was improvised later on to form a decentralized network topology – meaning that information and transactional data are stored in multiple blocks. Each of these blocks are interlinked to each other to form a chain; hence the name “blockchain”.

The stored information is in the form of a distributed public ledger system. This makes it possible for the information to be accessed by users connected to the network.

Security benefits of blockchain technology

All transactions that take place within a blockchain network have to be validated by other users in the network. In addition, the stored information cannot be altered without leaving traces. Every additional information entered in the blockchain is stored along with a timestamp. In other words, the transparency level is extremely high. This, in turn, adds to the security of the network.

The system is designed to be tamper-proof and all transactions since the inception of the network can be accessed easily. The most well known use of blockchain is Bitcoin, a virtual currency.

Image of Bitcoins
Bitcoin is the most well known use of blockchain architecture.

The use of telemedicine is increasing, and along with it, teleradiology. Through telemedicine, doctors can save a lot of time; and patients can consult doctors from a remote location. This is effective in reducing time to access care as well as costs.

To enable telemedicine, hospitals and diagnostic centers use cloud platforms. Patient reports and information are stored on the cloud platform. These virtual data centers allow authorized and concerned parties to access the information virtually.

Similarly, a patient’s diagnostic images and associated reports are stored in secure cloud centers , such as Carestream’s cloud services, to enable teleradiology.

Potential blockchain applications in teleradiology

Blockchain might have a role in the future. Some of the possible noteworthy advantages of using blockchain in teleradiology are:

  1. Blockchain architecture would make it possible to handle information through a publicly distributed ledger system. This technology would allow multiple users in the network to access the information simply by gaining access to the network. Using the blockchain for handling teleradiology information could be a significant boost to the healthcare sector. If the patient details are stored in the hospital network, then it would be easier to locate this data. Additional and follow up reports could be easily linked in the blockchain. This would allow physicians to track the patient’s progress and determine the course of treatment and its results.
  2. The blockchain network could facilitate doctors to handle sensitive data in a secure manner. The hospital network could grant access only to authorized personnel. This could include doctors and surgeons, consultants, resident medical officers, and even patients.
  3. Blockchain technology could be a source of savings. This technology could significantly reduce storage costs and transactional costs. Additionally, the handling of information would be efficient.
  4. Blockchain can track data since inception. Teleradiology reports and lab tests could be stored for each patient admitted to a diagnostics center. All patient information would be available in the network right from the origin. Storing vast amounts of data is possible with the help of blockchain technology.

Also, there are unexplored applications of blockchain technology in healthcare. For instance, Blockchain 2.0 has a functionality called smart contracts. The smart contracts feature allows users to automatically settle transactions within the network. These smart contracts contain a list of instructions and codes that are automatically executed once the settlement information is entered. In teleradiology, this could potentially be used to handle patient diagnosis and reports. Also, it could be possible that smart contracts are coded with financial information as well. This would allow monetary settlements to be handled along with the database.

Challenges remain

Although blockchain offers several layers of security, adoption of any technology in healthcare requires more stringent security and regulatory measures than in other industries.

“Many acknowledge that there is a huge potential for it (blockchain technology) in healthcare but are still cautious about the challenge, such as health data privacy, performance and lack of standards. There are still barriers to the adoption of public blockchains in healthcare because of the need to protect health data and new regulations such as general data protection regulations,” according to an interview published in Beckers Hospital Review. (3)

Whether it is for teleradiology or billing, it is likely that blockchain will have an impact on healthcare in the coming years. According to a report by IDC Health Insights cited by ComputerWorld, 20 percent of healthcare organizations will be “using blockchain for operations management and patient identity” by 2020 (4).

What’s your roadmap for embracing blockchain?

#blockchain #teleradiology

Harsh Arora is a freelance content writer/blogger and an educationist, with more than 6 years experience in the field of content writing. He is also a proud father of four rescued dogs and a leopard gecko.

Read the blog on Carestream’s cloud services that enable teleradiology today.

References

  1. ComputerWorld https://www.computerworld.com/article/3191077/security/what-is-blockchain-the-most-disruptive-tech-in-decades.html
  2. Diagnostic Imaging http://www.diagnosticimaging.com/di-executive/how-blockchain-could-solve-radiologys-problems
  3. Beckers Hospital Review https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/challenges-barriers-to-blockchain-adoption-in-healthcare-q-a-with-ctg-health-solutions-principal-consultant.html
  4. ComputerWorld Health Exec https://www.healthexec.com/topics/health-it/20-healthcare-orgs-will-use-blockchain-2020

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