How blockchain could improve data management in healthcare supply chains

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

© Jonathan Kitchen / Getty Images
© Jonathan Kitchen / Getty Images

Related tags Blockchain Data management

The cryptocurrency space suffered through a torrid, scandal-marked 2022 but there remains interest in using the blockchain infrastructure that underpins the sector in other contexts. In a recent review of the potential of the blockchain in healthcare, researchers set out how people are considering using the technology in the management of supply chains and the data they generate.

Writing in the journal Applied Sciences​, researchers from the University of Bologna presented the findings of a systematic review of the literature on blockchain for healthcare supply chains. Interest in the use of blockchain, a decentralized ledger of transactions, is underpinned by evidence that the technology can improve data security, interoperability, and the traceability of information.

Advocates of blockchain claim it could make it harder for unauthorized users to access or alter data while also enabling the sharing of information between legitimate entities in the healthcare supply chain. The system could automatically verify key data to enable the detection of counterfeit medicines.

The review identified 28 papers that met the criteria for inclusion in the review, although only one of the publications covered a real case study. The remaining 27 papers were either theoretical or simulation studies.

In their analysis of the academic papers, the researchers showed that private and consortium-based blockchains are the most commonly discussed approach in studies of healthcare supply chains. The two popular approaches differ from hybrid and public blockchains because they lack elements that are open and accessible to anyone.

Non-public blockchains, also known as permissioned blockchains, offer several advantages over public blockchains, including increased control, higher data confidentiality, lower energy consumption, and lower costs. These advantages may have led researchers to choose this technology over a fully decentralized solution for efficiency purposes​,” wrote the authors of the systematic review paper.

Most (61%) of the papers discussed blockchain in the context of the traceability of drugs and vaccines, including the only real case study in the review. The case study showed the potential of blockchain “to lower the risk of purchasing fraudulent herbal materials from upstream stakeholders and to improve data sharing and collaboration within the manufacturing and [supply chain] of healthcare products​.”

The lack of other real-world case studies led the researchers to conclude that knowledge of the use of blockchain in healthcare supply chains is still theoretical and that “much more must be done to actually harvest these technologies’ full potential​.”

Source: Applied Sciences​​
2023, 13​(2), 686; doi: 10.3390/app13020686​ ​   
“Blockchain for the Healthcare Supply Chain: A Systematic Literature Review”​
Authors: Matteo Fiore, et al.

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