Prescription opioid abuse has been exacerbated by disconnected and asynchronous data systems, poor transparency between providers and pharmacies, and lack of accountability that allows patients to “provider shop” or forge prescriptions. Blockchain technology can bring much-needed data traceability and accountability to the stakeholders in the opioid and pain-care ecosystem.
Fundamentally, blockchain is a digital ledger system for recording business transactions and events. As opposed to other databases that record transaction information, blockchain has inherent features that make it more secure, transparent, and real-time.
- Distributed: Blockchain is a peer-to-peer network that is able to connect disparate data sources and act as a single source of truth. This can result in improved transparency at the point of sale by allowing pharmacies to more easily view patient history before filling a prescription or for regulatory compliance by providing visibility for law enforcement into wholesaler inventories
- Consensus-Based: In order to complete a transaction on a blockchain, the entire network must provide validation that the transaction is valid and accurate. For example, if a patient attempts to illegally fill a prior opioid prescription at a second pharmacy, the entire network is alerted and can prevent the pharmacy from completing the transaction.
- Tamper-Proof: Information recorded onto a blockchain is cryptographically secured and unchangeable. This means each time a physician prescribes an opioid medication, a block is added to the chain with a permanent and irreversible digital record of that prescription so all other physicians and pharmacists will be able to see that information. This allows for enhanced trust as prescriptions can’t be forged, altered, or signed by anyone other than the provider.
- Smart Contracts: Smart contracts are computer code stored on the blockchain that can trigger the automated execution of a desired action under specified circumstances. When a patient goes to fill a prescription, a smart contract will be able to determine eligibility by cross-referencing prescription history, dosage, days’ supply, etc from the patient’s data on the blockchain. If the prescription is fraudulent or doesn’t meet the established criteria to fulfill the prescription the smart contract will automatically deny the transaction and alert the network.
Overall, a blockchain solution would provide an immediate and real-time state of consensus across stakeholders in the opioid and pain-care ecosystem while granting increased transparency of opioid prescription/purchasing. This more transparent system would decrease/prevent abuse, reduce the number of independent systems requiring maintenance and cross-communication, and provide more accountability between wholesalers, pharmacies, providers and patients.
About The Author
Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.
Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.
He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.