Saving money and lives with blockchain for coldchain breaks

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Healthcare is a leader in blockchain exploration, mindshare and adoption worldwide. IBM Institute for Business Value surveyed 205 life sciences executives in 18 countries and first movers found provenance and traceability to be a key advantage area for blockchain solutions. This is a reason we are focussed on vaccination cold chain breaks as a key area of interest.

Team Medicine: How life sciences can win with blockchain

Health organizations understand the challenges and requirements of blockchain, being more aware of the importance of consortiums, technology providers, service providers and regulation to blockchain solution success.

Canada has not been among the trailblazers in healthcare blockchain but attention is increasing rapidly. We are aware of and participating in multiple investigations, investments and proofs-of-concept across Canada in different healthcare organizations.

In this discussion, we’d like to focus in on a use case per post and explore the conditions for success for blockchain solutions. The first two use cases are vaccination cold chain breaks and provider registries, but we’ll go on to other use cases and their success factors in future posts. IBM Canada built, maintains and assisted multiple jurisdictions around the world in the deployment of both vaccine inventory management solutions with cold chain breaks and provider registries based on our technologies.

Vaccines are biological preparations. They have limited lifespans before they degrade. They can also be degraded or destroyed by being stored in temperatures that are too hot or too cold as well as by exposure to ultraviolet light, all of which are commonly referred to under the term “cold chain break”.

Vaccines are expensive. The Canadian federal government in 2009 purchased 50.4 million doses of the H1N1 or swine flu vaccine at a cost of more than $400 million dollars. The vaccine was manufactured and packaged in Canada. Globally, cold chain breaks are responsible for the loss of 15% to 25% of purchased doses. For H1N1 alone, cold chain breaks had the potential to cause the loss of $60-$100 million.

Provenance across an extended supply chain of multiple steps is a strength of blockchain solutions. The distributed ledgers are immutable, updated at each step and can be automatically updated by sensor systems. The provenance is traceable, auditable and shared, allowing all participants to know the quality of the vaccine or other substance. This is critical to public health vaccination processes, as sufficiently degraded vaccines will not provide immunization and may potentially be harmful.

       Example permissioned, private blockchain for vaccine management

As the diagram indicates, each of the major participants who has value from viewing the blockchain would have an instance of the distributed ledger and related software components in their computing environment. Under the IBM Blockchain model, which uses the open source Hyperledger Fabric blockchain, a central computing resource does the intensive processing portions of the solution, creating the hash, encrypting and distributing the blocks. Anyone can contribute a transaction to this process, all hosters of the distributed ledger will also validate the created blocks and all can consume the blocks for their own purposes.

What’s clear from this example is that all participants in the supply chain have a responsibility to contribute to the cold chain-break blockchain and all can receive value from the data for their own purposes. Manufacturers have clarity of the locations and status of all vaccines in the event of a recall or other quality control concern and for the purposes of their ongoing research and development. Central purchasers can assure that their predicted models of distribution and quality control are accurate. Public health authorities have assurance that for any batch of vaccine, they can trace it back to the factory and be delivering immunizations with full knowledge of the quality of the doses. Auditing organizations receive the information that they need to assure quality automatically without additional effort or manual processes.

This does require all participants to agree to participate in the blockchain, institute the appropriate data sharing agreements and deploy the appropriate components in their solution. Some contributors will simply be using web- or mobile-interfaces to capture data at a point in time of the vaccines journey from manufacturing to immunization and won’t require blockchain technologies deployed their servers.

Blockchain approaches have the potential to save Canada tens of millions of dollars while improving immunization results. We are exploring creating a blockchain proof-of-concept for this with interested parties and stakeholders.

Read more about blockchain in Life Sciences – Team Medicine:How life sciences can win with blockchain

IBM Services Partner & Canadian Healthcare Services Leader

Michael Barnard

IBM Services Executive Consultant - Cloud, Health, Blockchain

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