Medical care in emergency situations is stressful enough. However, not being able to access your medical history or share that essential information, or dealing with a language barrier can make seeking medical care unbearable.

Programs and apps that have been designed for use in ‘normal’ emergency settings as they unfold in a day-to-day life – not the sort of catastrophic emergencies that arrive after a natural disaster or regional catastrophe – are able to be adapted for use ‘in the field’ by Non-Government Organisations and relief workers in a variety of global settings. Let’s examine some of the blockchain-based solutions to these issues.

Busy medical professionals have, for the most part, already moved beyond thumbing through paper records or print-outs of lab tests and scans in most countries, and they now rely on computer-based records instead. The next stage of progress, courtesy of the safety and security of blockchain records, means they will be able to access a patient’s total medical record — including lab tests, x-rays, and consultations with other specialists — via a computer or mobile device that connects to a secure public ledger.

Not only will medical practitioners or emergency responders gain access to the patient’s records in the country of residence, they can also view those records from anywhere in the world as long as they have the necessary log-in credentials. In the case of a standard medical emergency, weather-related or geological disaster, or socio-political disturbance, the patient may be unconscious and unable to relate their own medical history to the attending physician or medical technician. If medical records are soon to be available online from any location, that adds to the life-saving capability of medical providers around the world. (Marketplace, March 2017)

A study called MedRec, conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the deteriorating reliability of today’s current Electronic Health Records (EHRs), found a need for maintaining of comprehensive medical records, streamlining access, and combining records that are scattered in several locations or with a variety of providers. The researchers also emphasised that the concerns of individual patients must be addressed, particularly as it relates to the confidentiality of their records. (MIT, August 2016)

A startling report issued at the beginning of 2018 revealed that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) was ending the funding for a 39-country multi-year program to prevent contagious disease. Given the rising number of emergency and humanitarian crises each year, this news has shocked many in the NGO and relief agency community. An added strain on medical providers is the re-emergence of diseases that were once thought to have been eradicated. All of these factors make the timing of the CDC’s announcement quite perplexing and certainly a cause for concern.

The announcement came almost immediately on the heels of the Health and Human Resources annual meeting at the end of 2017 in the United States. Some of the topics discussed with enthusiasm at that annual meeting included:

  • the increased use of eHealth solutions in the USA
  • the increase in the number of natural disasters and weather events during the previous few years
  • the dilemma surrounding the slow implementation of solutions that could have been saving lives in each disaster

Whether it was flooding from monsoon rains in Asia, back-to-back hurricanes in the USA and the Caribbean, a 3½ times increase in the number of cases of dengue fever in Sri Lanka, or a range of other earthquakes, landslides, and health epidemics — it was clear that rapid-response medical solutions need to be instituted immediately — not at some unforeseen date in the future.

The author of a 2-part article written for the ep3 Foundation noted that the diversity of medical record-keeping, as well as the proprietary tendencies of hospitals and medical practices, mean that patient records are not easily shared. There seems to be little inclination for this streamlining to be enacted, even when doctors and medical practitioners know that this would be a wise step to take. (ep3 foundation, Feb. 2018)

As early as 2009, the HITECH Act was passed and by 2015 the CoraNet and Personal Health Information Exchange (PHIE) were ready to go live with access via smartphone or tablet connectivity to the cloud – but those in-place and un-activated measures have yet to go live and serve the people who need it the most. The obstructive attitudes being demonstrated by medical institutions are a strong hindrance when life-saving measures are needed in both domestic and international emergency situations. (Open Health News, May 2015)

In contrast to the almost-hostile reluctance to share patient records exhibited by hospitals and medical professionals – as they are asked to participate in a more global records-keeping effort, a small but impactful success story emerged in the wake of the late-2017 hurricane season.

The HITECH Act was passed in the USA in 2009 as a response to the disastrous loss of many medical records in Hurricane Katrina. Some of the more astute hospitals and medical providers realised that in spite of the set-up costs, they could no longer afford to be without a safe and reliable way to store medical records. Those that embraced this approach were rewarded during the 2017 hurricane season in Houston when patients were, for the most part, able to be treated without long delays, since their records had been uploaded to the cloud. This was especially important for patients with long-term issues such as cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure. The one jarring aspect was that patients who attended a hospital that was not partnered with their own health insurance company did encounter obstacles because records were not always freely shared between providers. (Politico, Sept. 2017)