Is blockchain the answer to preventing pandemics like COVID-19?

This is not a news alert, by no means. We all know the deal with COVID-19 – it has monopolised our news pages for the last month with the last two weeks reaching an unprecedented high. As if the world has literally stopped spinning; but it has also literally not stopped spinning. Regardless, precautionary measures are not to be taken lightly; panic, however should not be endorsed.

In the meantime, and despite the plentiful monetary resources thrown in the healthcare industry by governments and the EU for developing a vaccine / a pill / a cough syrup / a throat spray or you name it which will effectively look COVID-19 in the eye, the question that rises is whether, even after finding a solution to yet another pandemic one way or the other, we have really found the solution in (a) recording, (b) identifying and (c) preventing such pandemic diseases? The answer might as well be lying in technology.

Pandemics, defined as worldwide spread of a disease to which most people do not have immunity, have occurred through the centuries with some of the most prominent and “famous” ones being The Black Death in mid-14th century (killing over 200 million people), the 1918 Spanish flu (killing over 100 million people) and in more recent history the HIV/AIDS pandemic (killing over 36 million people).

Pandemics can happen anytime, anywhere and with today’s modern lifestyle can spread in greater speeds year by year. So what can we actually do to prevent them? And by “prevent” we do not refer to “containing” them – that is a whole other definition. Could technology play a key role in our first line of defense?

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US has already started looking into utilising blockchain technology in preventing future epidemics blazing the world. By recording the data relating to a pandemic, be it patient data focusing on symptoms, tried (unsuccessful) medicine, tried (and successful) medicine or even the entire medical history of medicine itself (i.e. recording the entire processes of pharmaceutical products from the research lab to the store shelf to the end consumer) can boost testing procedures, give precise content and enable effective analysis leading to more sophisticated results. And consequently effective measures.

In addition, by utilising blockchain technology in healthcare the element of “trust” is immediately enhanced by creating a network to which patients, research labs and pharmaceutical companies can provide data which cannot be forgotten, lost, altered or even manipulated. Then, cost efficiency – removing the barrier of expensive data management methods, clouds, services which are not only financially burdensome for healthcare organisations / hospitals / pharmaceuticals but also hinder easy and direct access wasting precious time when it comes to pandemics. Using blockchain, data can be viewed and analysed in real time, a benefit which can have many uses, such as tracking medicines, development of symptoms, development of medicine, updating of electronic health records etc.

Blockchain could also eliminate the issue of geographical presence which is often a tremendous hurdle to overcome in pandemics. The interoperability element of blockchain will allow different stakeholders/ users of the blockchain to have immediate access to trusted, real-time data; enabling them to track efficiency the spead so as to take whatever preventive or precautionary measures are required without undue delay.

Even more, Blockchain enables cryptocurrencies, which essentially means that by using cryptocurrencies operating on the blockchain “germophobia” and “germ spreading” is resolved – no germs spread when there’s really no touching fiat money and exchange, right?

In essence, what blockchain can achieve is to “create the first line of rapid defense through a network of connected devices whose only purpose would be to remain vigilant about disease outbreaks, 24/7 365 days a year, in perpetuity“.

So, why are we still not using blockchain to solve pandemics? Is being dependent on technology to this extend a scary thought for some? Would this have a detrimental impact on the interests of big pharmaceutical companies or even political and economic interests which are very often benefited in times of crisis?

Despite its slow introduction to the healthcare industry blockchain will be the main disruptor to things as we know them in medicine until today. The solutions offered by utilising blockchain – with main keywords including words such as “trusted, interoperable, secure, real-time, enabler of machine learning and artificial intelligence, data collection, sophisticated analysis” and the list goes on, may in future pandemics make the difference between prevention, containment and global contagiousness.

Regardless, and until a solution has been found, stay healthy!

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