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Viva la health revolution! How blockchain and wearables will make us healthy

Key takeaways

  • The human body is a black-box when it comes to accessing its ‘data’.
  • Wearable technology could share its secrets with the healthcare profession via a secure blockchain.
  • The increased accuracy of diagnosis, monitoring and prescribing would improve quality of life and promote a healthy society.

Would you share your Fitbit data with your doctor?

A new report by PwC UK, Revolutionising Health: Predicting patient health using blockchain and wearable technology,  examines the potential for revolutionising healthcare with the use of wearables and blockchain.

In recent years, wearable technology such as Fitbits, Apple watches and Garmin activity trackers have become ubiquitous, on the wrist of everyone from hardcore gym rats to the Sunday stroll set. While there is definitely a lifestyle and, if we’re all honest, novelty factor, the proliferation of such devices also opens up other avenues for their use.

Take health. While in other areas of our lives we are now used to having digital control and data – such as banking or retail shopping via mobiles – with health, things have stayed relatively physical, the report’s authors say. People do want to know what’s happening in their bodies, so they track steps and heartbeats, sleep patterns and water intake. But the available information only goes so far.

What if there were a way to go further, by helping diagnose and manage health conditions to live happier, healthier lives?

Enter the blockchain

Until recently, the idea of people sharing personal health and potentially sensitive information via electronic gadgets came with a big dose of “I don’t think so”. With the Internet of Things in its infancy, and cyber security attacks happening relatively frequently, the current situation is simply not safe enough.

A blockchain approach could change that. With its use of thousands of computer systems agreeing on the verification and storage of data in the chain, a blockchain system is much harder to hack than the common system of information stored in one place. It could enable patient health record to be given to the mobile apps or wearables that record the data.

Not only could patients have access to a repository of their health information, their doctors could too. And if the wearables updated in real time or even at specific intervals, the image gleaned by doctors of a person’s overall health would be all the more precise.

As the report notes, there are a number of criteria that a blockchain would have to meet for this system to work, pertaining mainly to access (who, how, when) and the verification and accuracy of data. While complex, the system is feasible, and it could lead to better health management by doctors, instant access in emergency situations and alerts when abnormalities are detected.

Bold benefits

The flow on effect of such a system is vast and, frankly, quite amazing.

On a very practical level, health could become a much simpler, cost-effective proposition for the individual. The need for health appointments or follow-up visits is reduced, and appointments become much more targeted. Errors in diagnosis and prescribing decrease and serious conditions could be detected at stages where intervention could have greater effect.

From a life-changing perspective, the management of disease or injury itself is transformed. Wearables could (and often are) being used to track a variety of ailments. Blood pressure, sleep apnea, epileptic seizures and diabetes are some of the important illnesses that could be monitored via digital technology.

Less obvious things could also be watched, for instance, via a wearable necklace to detect difficulty in swallowing – a common occurrence in dementia patients who forget how to take medicine or distrust what they are taking. This knowledge could alert doctors to the need for a change to liquid medication, or to step up therapy in order to slow down the deterioration process and improve quality of life.

In emergency situations, such as heart attacks, paramedic access to patient data – for instance, what the patient’s pulse was doing in the lead up to collapse, or what medications they had taken and when – could be the time saving difference between life and death. And post-hospitalisation, monitoring could allow patients to be discharged earlier with greater visibility over their situation at the same time.

The real power of technology

Improving a person’s quality of life is no small feat. Allowing individuals the ability to take control over their inside-workings, as well as giving increased information to healthcare professionals to help in caring for them, could very well lead to healthier human beings.

Better diagnosis, monitoring and prescription leads to better time spent on people’s health and the personalisation and greater efficacy of treatment.  

By combining the security of blockchain with the convenience of wearable technology, the future is looking much healthier.

For further information on this topic, visit the full report via PwC UK.