Blockchain key to more accessible, safer and affordable healthcare, Chris Fearne says

Blockchain technology is set to revolutionise the way healthcare is administered in Malta and across Europe, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne told attendees at the Delta Summit

Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne
Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne

Blockchain is not just about cryptocurrencies but it “will save lives”, Malta’s Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne said as he painted a revolutionary picture of healthcare administration.

Fearne, who is also Malta's health minister, was a keynote speaker at the Delta Summit being held at the Intercontinental Ice Arena.

The technology would make patient healthcare data more accessible across institutions and jurisdictions, reduce the vulnerability of such data to theft, as well as lower the cost of clinical trials and ultimately medicines, Fearne said.

Data will be owned by the individual not the authorities Chris Fearne

He explained how patient records in Malta have been accessible from all public sector health centres, but this did not include the roughly 20% of services provided by the private sector.

To this end, the government had implemented a web-based platform allowing patients and their private doctors to access public health records online.

"Private doctors having immediate access to public health records is essential for us to provide continuity of care," he said, adding that such records were only available to doctors registered in Malta and could be accessed by patients needing treatment abroad.

Blockchain technology, he said, would allow patients to have access to all their medical data using just a key that they could give to a doctor abroad if they needed to. This is essential in making an accurate diagnosis, he added.

"Blockchain can solve the problem of lack of accessibility to data across borders and institutions,” Fearne said.

He said a big worry in the healthcare field is theft of sensitive personal data, which could be overcome by blockchain technology.

“While today patient data is held by healthcare institutions, with patients required to ask to be granted access to it, blockchain technology could reverse this. Before, everyone in the hospital had access to this data except the patient. This is unacceptable as the data should belong to the patient,” Fearne said.

This would be one of the biggest changes in culture and mentality, he added. "Data will be owned by the individual not the authorities."

The minister said clinical trials would also become cheaper.

Obtaining consent for doctors to look into patient medical history is one of the most challenging aspects for clinical trials because patients were mostly weary of allowing others to look through their history.

In this respect, he said, blockchain would allow patients to give access to specific bits of data, making trials, and making the ultimate medicinal product cheaper. 

Finally, Fearne said blockchain technology could also help stop the spread of counterfeit drugs, ensuring complete traceability from production to the patient.