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Blockchain in Pharma
When you think of blockchain, you probably don’t think of blockchain in pharma. Most people associate it with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but blockchain is actually a secure method of maintaining information in a decentralized method in blocks. It’s an extremely effective method of storing and transmitting information, and it is being used more and more in healthcare.
Understanding Blockchain As a Database
At its core, blockchain is fairly simple. It’s a database that serves to collect and store information electronically. This information, also referred to as data, is usually set up so you can search it and filter it to find what you’re looking for.
With blockchain, your data is collected into groups or blocks. Each block of data is filled and then attached, or chained, to a previous block, which has also been filled. Hence the name “blockchain.”
A regular database uses tables, but a blockchain uses blocks instead. It’s essentially a number of databases chained together. It also means there is a set timeline since you can see where the block joined the chain and it receives a timestamp.
Blockchains tend to be decentralized, which means the information is stored over thousands of computers spread out around the world. This allows for backup if one or two servers go down or even if an entire section of a country goes down. There are also private blockchains, which are centralized within a set network run by a company. Every node in the blockchain has a record of the timeline, and thus it is impossible to lose transaction data.
How Blockchain in Pharma Works
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic showed the world just how chaotic things can become. Drugs and supplies were in high demand, and there was a very limited supply. This is where it became evident that pharma needs a better way to track and verify products as they move from place to place.
Blockchain in pharma is the ideal solution. It provides the opportunity to stay on top of product shipments and returns, and reduces the chances of fraud.
Using blockchain to keep track of pharmaceutical products allows competing companies to collaborate on specific things, such as drug safety information. However, while all companies have access to the basic information, the more sensitive data is kept private.
Using blockchain for pharma is the best way to solve some of the most common pharma issues.
Managing Drug Inventory
Automation is one of the benefits of using blockchain for pharma, and this comes into play with inventory management. It isn’t always possible for a human to react in time to the changes in supply and demand. With blockchain, things are faster. First, you’ll need to set up an inventory system and connect it to the blockchain. Once the connection is made, the blockchain will automatically alert the system to either reduce production or increase it, depending on the demand.
At this point, you can also track each step of the drug production process and determine where the necessary drugs are.
Compromised Drug Returns
It’s estimated that 10% of healthcare products are fake or substandard in developing countries. This is due in part to vaccines, medications, etc., being sent back to the pharma company for a refund, but the returned products are fake. Theft is a major problem when it comes to pharmaceutical products, which contributes to several additional problems in the industry.
Returns occur in roughly 3% of drug purchases. Counterfeit drugs are often returned in place of real drugs, but this is where blockchain can actually help track and identify the genuine drugs and ensure that only the real thing is returned. This is done via barcodes and serialization.
When barcodes are scanned, the drugs can be traced from anywhere and their authenticity verified. Thanks to blockchain’s decentralization, there’s no need to focus on a central authority.
Supply Chain Transparency
Another reason to use blockchain is to ensure that the supply chain is run correctly. Thanks to the timestamps and linear method of connecting blocks, it’s possible to see exactly where each order came in and was sent out. Anyone can check to see if their shipment has been scanned and sent out and may even check where it is in the supply chain.
Improved Clinical Trials
Blockchain can also be used to keep track of patient data and clinical data. Clinical trial protocols may be shared with the patients to ensure they understand what is happening at every step. Since a major issue with clinical trials is unconfirmed consent, this is a better way to ensure everything is taken care of.
The consent forms can be made available through the blockchain. When the patient signs the form, it’s timestamped and stored. Since it is part of the blockchain, the information is nearly impossible to tamper with, so the trial data is more secure. It can also be verified as needed.
Sensitive Drug Compliance
Certain drugs may need certain conditions to be maintained. Insulin, vaccines, and other sensitive drugs require specific temperatures, for example. Air quality, humidity, and other factors can be of utmost importance for some drugs. The correct environment must be maintained the entire way to the end-user.
Using blockchain to track everything from temperature and humidity to air quality and time means anyone along the line can check to be sure the drugs are still viable. This speeds up the process and ensures the sensitive drugs get the care they need.
Blockchain in pharma is decidedly useful and will become more and more common as time goes on. It’s not surprising, considering how much more secure the supply chain is with this type of technology. From tracking and maintaining drug production to ensuring sensitive drugs are properly cared for on their journey to the end-user, blockchain makes the entire process simpler.