ARTICLE: Raconteur/ The Times – The healthcare case for sharing medical data with blockchain

Health services need to improve data-sharing for better patient care, treatment and research outcomes, but whether blockchain is the right facilitator remains to be seen

Data can be the lifeblood of the NHS. As John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, remarked in the government’s life sciences industrial strategy: “One of the most important resources held by the UK health system is the data generated by the 65 million people within it.”

However, collecting and securely distributing patient information is a global healthcare challenge. Medical data typically flows from many different directions, with records kept as a mishmash of electronic and paper files scanned to a computer.

Obtaining patient consent to share data can be difficult, especially in the UK where many different physical legal entities operate under the NHS umbrella. And a lack of standardisation in note-taking is a major problem for interoperability across different workflows.

As a consequence, although it is improving, access to data for patients and clinicians is far from frictionless and can result in poor care.

A recent study by York, Manchester and Sheffield universities found that around 237 million medication errors are made in England annually, causing at least 1,700 hospital patient deaths. Mistakes often occur due to a lack of information or because of communication errors.

The rise in digital health solutions and the bourgeoning role of artificial intelligence in disease diagnosis and preventative care has put a renewed onus on data management and sharing, but finding the right tools is problematic.

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