- Everyone connected with healthcare supports interoperability saying it improves care, reduces medical errors and lowers costs
- But interoperability is a long way from reality and electronic patient records are only part of an answer
- Could Blockchain a technology disrupting financial systems resolve interoperability in healthcare?
- Blockchain is an open-source decentralized “accounting” platform that underpins crypto currencies
- Blockchain does not require any central data hubs, which in healthcare have been shown to be easily breached
- Blockchain technology creates a virtual digital ledger that could automatically record every interaction with patient data in a cryptographically verifiable manner
- Some experts believe that Blockchain could improve diagnosis, enhance personalised therapies, and prevent highly prevalent devastating and costly diseases
- Why aren’t healthcare leaders pursuing Blockchain with vigour?
Blockchain technology is disrupting financial systems by enhancing the reconciliation of global transactions and creating an immutable audit trail, which significantly enhances the ability to track information at lower costs, while protecting confidentiality. Could Blockchain do something similar for healthcare and resolve the challenges of interoperability by providing an inexpensive and enhanced means to immutably track, store, and protect a variety of patient data from multiple sources, while giving different levels of access to health professionals and the public?
You might not have heard of Blockchain, but probably you have heard of bitcoin; an intangible or crypto currency, which was created in 2008 when a programmer called Satoshi Nakamoto (a pseudonym) described bitcoin’s design in a paper posted to a cryptography e-mail list. Then in early 2009 Nakamoto released Blockchain: an open source, global decentralized accounting ledger, which underpins bitcoin by executing and immutably recording transactions without the need of a middleman. Instead of a centrally managed database, copies of the cryptographic balance book are spread across a network and automatically updated as transactions take place. Bitcoin gave rise to other crypto-currencies. Crypto currencies only exist as transactions and balances recorded on a public ledger in the cloud, and verified by a distributed group of computers.
A common misconception is that electronic patient records (EPR) resolve interoperability. They do not. EPRs were created to coordinate patient care inside healthcare settings by replacing paper records and filing cabinets. EPRs were not designed as open systems, which can easily collect, amalgamate and monitor a range of medical, genetic and personal information from multiple sources. To realize the full potential and promise of interoperability EPRs need to be easily accessible digitally, and in addition, have the capability to collect and manage remotely generated patient healthcare data as well as pharmacy and prescription information; family-health histories; genomic information and clinical-study data. To make this a reality existing data management conventions need to be significantly enhanced, and this is where Blockchain could help.
Professor Neil McHugh graduated from Otago University Medical School, Dunedin, New Zealand, and completed physician training before specialising in the subspecialty of rheumatology. He has undertaken research fellowships at the Walter and Eliza Hall in Melbourne, Australia (1985), Yale University Medical School, USA (1990–1991), and the National Heart and Lung Institute, UK (2002–2004).
Professor McHugh has been a Consultant Rheumatologist at the RNHRD since 1991, and Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology at the University of Bath since 2013. His current interests include the serology of idiopathic inflammatory myositis, scleroderma, lupus and juvenile idiopathic arthritis. His laboratory group offers specialist autoimmune serology at the University of Bath, leads on a major European study of adult and juvenile idiopathic myositis, and has identified a number of novel diagnostic autoantibody biomarkers.
Professor McHugh also leads a programme of work related to psoriatic disease, including a National Institute for Health Research programme grant related to the early detection and optimisation of outcome measures in psoriatic arthritis. He has led on successive British Society for Rheumatology guidelines for biologics in psoriatic arthritis, and has been involved in National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and other international guidelines for psoriatic disease.
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- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung condition, which makes it hard to breathe, but is often preventable and treatable
- COPD affects some 210m people worldwide, its prevalence is increasing, and it costs billions in treatment and lost production
- By 2020 COPD is projected to be the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide
- Recently, scientific advances have benefitted COPD research
- But COPD researchers are challenged to provide compelling data in support of their studies
- COPD research would benefit from smart online communications strategies
- This could strengthen collaboration among globally dispersed scientists and people living with COPD, and expand the geographies from which COPD data are retrieved
COPD is an umbrella term used to describe common progressive lifetime diseases, which damage the lungs and airways, and make breathing difficult. Its prevalence is increasing especially in developing countries. It is the 4th leading cause of death worldwide and projected to be the 3rd by 2020. The causes of COPD are well known, but the nature of the condition is still not fully understood even though COPD therapies have improved significantly in recent years. The effects of COPD are persistent and progressive, but treatment can relieve symptoms, improve quality of life and reduce the risk of death. COPD impacts people differently, medications affect patients differently, and such differences make it challenging for doctors to identify patients who are at risk of a more rapidly progressing condition.
Although COPD is complex with different etiologies, pathogens and physiological effects, there are two main forms: (i) chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus, and (ii) emphysema, which involves damage to the lungs over time. COPD also has significant extra-pulmonary effects, which include weight loss, nutritional abnormalities, skeletal muscle dysfunction, and it is also a major cause of psychological suffering. Further, COPD may promote heart failure because obstruction of the airways and damage to the lining of the lungs can result in abnormally low oxygen levels in the vessels inside the lungs. This creates excess strain on the right ventricle from pulmonary hypertension, which can result in heart failure.
In developed countries, the biggest risk factor for the development of COPD is cigarette smoking, whereas indoor pollutants are the major risk factor for the disease in developing nations. Not all smokers develop COPD and the reasons for disease susceptibility in these individuals have not been fully elucidated. Although the mechanisms underlying COPD remain poorly understood, the disease is associated with chronic inflammation, which is usually corticosteroid resistant, destruction of the airways, and lung parenchyma (functional tissue). There is no cure for COPD, but it is sometimes partially reversible with the administration of inhaled long-acting bronchodilators, and its progression can be slowed through smart maintenance therapy, in particular a cessation of smoking. People with stage 1 or 2 COPD lose at most a few years of life expectancy at age 65 compared with persons with no lung disease, in addition to any years lost due to smoking. Current smokers with stage 3 or 4 COPD lose about 6 years of life expectancy, in addition to the almost 4 years lost due to smoking.
The economic burden of COPD is vast and increasing, with attributed costs for hospitalizations, loss of productivity, and disability, in addition to medical care. In 2010, the condition’s annual cost in the US alone was estimated to be approximately US$50bn, which includes $20bn in indirect costs, and $30bn in direct health care expenditures. COPD treatment costs the UK more than £1.9bn each year. Over the past decade in the UK progress in tracking the disease has stagnated, and there is a wide variation in the quality of care.
The prevalence of COPD has increased dramatically due to a combination of aging populations, higher smoking prevalence, changing lifestyles and environmental pollution. In developed economies, COPD affects an estimated 8 to 10% of the adult population, 15 to 20% of the smoking population, and 50 to 80% of lung cancer patients with substantial smoking histories. For many years, COPD was considered to be a disease of developed nations, but its prevalence is increasing significantly in developing countries, where almost 90% of COPD deaths occur. Even though most of the research data on COPD comes from developed countries, accurate epidemiologic data on the condition are challenging and expensive to collect. There is a dearth of systematically collected COPD prevalence data from developing nations, and a paucity of COPD studies in Africa, SE Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean region. Most of the available prevalence estimates from low- to middle-income countries are not based on spirometry testing (the internationally accepted gold standard for the diagnosis of COPD, which measures lung capacity). Hence, the available COPD data from developing countries cannot be interpreted reliably in a global context, and more data from these regions are necessary to extend and support further studies.