By Dan Matthews, Writer, Content Consultant, and Researcher
All kinds of tech currently power life-saving innovations in healthcare. Two of these ground-breaking technologies are the Internet of Bodies (IoB), a subfield of the Internet of Things (IoT) primarily concerned with health, and blockchain systems for storing and communicating data.
As these two instrumental inventions collide, the results mean better care for a range of patients. This intersection of connected health monitoring devices and the cryptographic data nodes to store this information stand to cultivate medical insights while protecting vulnerable patient data.
Given the challenges faced when integrating IoT, the security of the blockchain is a valuable addition to a healthcare data network. Explore the various ways these technologies collide and support each other. With the right combination of modern tools, patient health gets an upgrade.
Here’s what you should know about the intersection of the IoB and blockchain in healthcare.
The Internet of Bodies in Healthcare
The IoB is rapidly expanding with improving mobile technology. Now, patient care is receiving a boost as a result of this expansion, with revolutionized abilities to track and monitor health metrics. As patient care and these high-tech solutions merge, the expectation is that these tools will even influence preventative care and healthy lifestyle choices.
This is possible because of the role the IoB is coming to play in patient monitoring and treatment. In recent years, great strides have been made in gathering and applying patient data for better care. Electrical currents are measured in the body through wearable or even implanted devices. From here, medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease can be evaluated with greater transparency and insight.
In fact, these connected technologies have gone as far as electronic sensors that simulate skin and digital pills that aid in oncology care. This latter is one of the most incredible innovations in the IoB space. Scientists at Proteus developed the first digital pill, a swallowable device capable of recording and reporting medicinal data to a smartphone. Now, these pills are being developed to help record treatment regimens for cancer patients. The results include higher quality data doctors can use to better treat patients.
As the connectivity of all kinds of devices improves, so too does our ability to generate actionable healthcare data. Smart homes, for instance, can be set up to monitor not only bodily health information but environmental conditions and lifestyle choices as well. These metrics can be used by care providers to better understand and improve care. All it takes is a good Wi-Fi connection and an awareness of the smart tools on the market.
But many IoB options are plagued by the same big challenge faced by IoT at large. These devices pose a cybersecurity risk due to their limited protection and prevalence. That’s where blockchain comes in.
Blockchain in Healthcare
Blockchain may be a pivotal technology in securing medical data and streamlining the potential of IoB. That’s because blockchain offers greater levels of security through its unique structure. However, you may be asking, what even is blockchain?
Blockchain is a relatively new technology that medical professionals and healthcare IT practitioners may have only heard of in relation to cryptocurrency. Invented for and popularized by Bitcoin, these decentralized data models host information through cryptographic links. This makes it all but impossible to alter or steal information without access keys or control over a majority of the nodes in the chain.
In healthcare, blockchain is making it easier to transfer data between care providers securely. This has been instrumental in streamlining care during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, care providers utilized blockchain to produce a “light” EHR system that enabled sharing of critical medical information to emergency care staff. As a result, doctors were able to treat patients with greater awareness of medical history and conditions.
Blockchain achieves this transferability due to its decentralized nature. Rather than one organization owning all the data, ownership of information is controlled by relevant parties. Each patient has individual access keys and can track their data with unprecedented transparency. That’s because blockchain stores an immutable record by nature of its functionality.
When applied to IoB data and information systems, the potential for blockchain to enhance the usefulness, security, and transparency of data carries big implications for the healthcare industry.
A Powerful Intersection
Where IoB and blockchain intersect, it’s a powerful scenario for understanding and protecting medical data. The IoB is designed to connect us with insights into our bodies’ performance and functions. But cybercrime is too prevalent to allow this data to flow freely in centralized digital ecosystems. Instead, blockchain can be stacked with IoB to produce data integrity and quality that the medical field has never before known.
By applying these tools, medical practitioners and patients alike can gain a host of benefits. IoB data becomes more useful, secure, and transparent with blockchain. Here’s how:
- Useful — IoB data stored over a blockchain distributed ledger technology allows for a greater understanding of medical information. As these tools in EHRs expand, medical researchers will increasingly be able to draw unidentified medical data to produce a greater understanding of symptoms, illnesses, and treatments. That’s because blockchain is decentralized and can operate using smart contracts, keeping personal information personal while it is being analyzed.
- Secure — The security of IoB monitors is essential since these have been called the “most hackable” devices in the medical field. However, blockchain can better secure these devices through cryptographic functions and isolated data ownership. Rather than attacking an entire database, most hackers would have to opt for a much smaller-scale theft of personal authorization keys to gain medical data — and this isn’t easy.
- Transparent — Lastly, data is stamped onto a blockchain node, unable to be altered. This adds a level of traceability to records and information for the patients and doctors that have access to this data. As a result, the quality and audit-ability of medical information collected by the IoB stand to improve.
These benefits of paired IoB and blockchain in healthcare may elevate the quality of care for patients all over the world. As these technological innovations keep improving and getting cheaper, it’s up to medical professionals to explore what their integration might look like in their own practices.
With the help of smart sensors and distributed ledgers, maintaining the integrity and usefulness of health data becomes much easier. Explore the role of IoB and blockchain in your own care, then consider how these benefits might assist you and others. Tech is powering a healthier future. But it will take the right combination to get there.