The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated calls for adopting blockchain technology to solve urgent problems, speed up research, and improve patient privacy in the healthcare industry.   In April of this year, the Blockchain Research Institute identified five key areas in pandemic response public policy that can benefit from blockchain deployment:

  1. Identity, health records and shared data
  2. Just-in-time supply chains
  3. Economic sustainability
  4. Rapid response medical registries
  5. Incentive models for responsible public behavior.

Developed as a method to decentralize finance, make anonymous transactions, and break free from regulatory scrutiny, blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that has useful applications across a range of industries. By providing secure, decentralized transactions and data storage, blockchain can improve the speed and accuracy of supply chains and recordkeeping and reduce costs.

Like many others, companies in the tech sector are actively reimagining their tools and resources, pivoting to fight COVID-19 and solve the urgent problems brought on by the pandemic and its effects. Tech innovations like Artificial Intelligence, 5G networks, and blockchain are all being used to improve research processes, speed up communication between scientists, securely store and manage patient data, verify professional credentials, and other uses. The adoption of blockchain tech can let doctors and public health officials track data and assets transparently while maintaining patient confidentiality and anonymity, create contact tracing apps, and track pharmaceutical inventories and supply chains.

Blockchain already plays an important role in the American economy. Using initiatives like the IBM Food Trust, American food producers track and monitor the movement of their goods for more effective supply chain management. Acknowledging the importance of the technology, the Department of Homeland Security listed blockchain managers in food and agricultural distribution as essential, calling them “critical infrastructure workers.”

Applications in healthcare

Blockchain promises solutions for an accelerated response to disasters and pandemics. As Coronavirus wreaks havoc on economies and societies worldwide, proponents tout blockchain’s potential in speeding up shipments of supplies and medications, providing avenues for contact tracing, and keeping economies functioning with cash-flow management solutions. It provides the critical mix of security and transparency required for real-time access to sensitive medical data, while decentralized payment systems can maintain transparency in fundraising efforts and securely track funds from donors to their final use.

In the midst of a global pandemic, tracking the spread and severity of disease can be a key asset to understanding and slowing the spread of the virus. Contact tracing applications can build on existing blockchain platforms, saving time and money and getting useful apps out to the public faster. Other possible uses in healthcare and pandemic response include streamlined provider directories, insurance claim processing, and worker credentialing and verifications—a service that proves very useful in emergency situations and epidemics when doctors and nurses need to cross state lines or come out of retirement on short notice to address a crisis.

Solutions for a post-pandemic world

Looking to the future, advocates also see blockchain as a tool for propping up ailing economies and kickstarting the recovery process after the pandemic ends. Tokenization, says Kelvin Cheng, CEO of BigONE exchange, stimulates the economy by letting companies divide their assets, allowing more investors to contribute at lower cost. Decentralized payment systems can help more companies switch to cashless transactions, making transactions safer, faster, and more efficient. Although, like everything else, the value of Bitcoin took a plunge in March, it has steadily surged since—rising from $6,483 on March 20 to $9,437 on May 20—as the benefits of privacy, transparency, and ease of transfer of cryptocurrency become more apparent. The S&P 500, on the other hand, is still down almost 13% since the beginning of 2020.

In a piece published on the World Economic Forum’s website, Mariam Obaid AlMuhairi, Project Manager at the Dubai Future Foundation, argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the “lack of connectivity and data exchange built into our global supply chains.” We have an unprecedented opportunity, she says, to improve our communication infrastructure and build resilient, sustainable, and interoperable networks across all industries.

With the twin advantages of security and transparency, blockchain promises to have a big impact on industries that rely on managing and transmitting sensitive personal information. From administrative tasks to supply chains and medical research, blockchain technology has the potential to transform healthcare and help doctors and scientists do their work more efficiently, securely, and transparently.

Diana Ionescu