The situation in China continues to escalate as the country fights on. While the virus is apparently showing signs of a slowdown, the situation is far from over and its effects will linger for a long time to come. Prior to this crisis was the Central People’s Government recent championing of blockchain technology. It’s been positioned as an important step for the development of the country. One measure in order to fight the virus would be for China to continue tying their healthcare system with blockchain technology. Here’s why.

Blockchain In China

In late October, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave his first public statement on blockchain technology declaring that China must “seize the opportunity” to “accelerate the development of blockchain technology”. As the first leader in the world to make any remarks on the technology, China immediately acted with a wave of pro-blockchain media pieces, investors buying stock in blockchain enterprises, cities pushing for subsidy funds, and the price of bitcoin rising by 12 percent. And while cryptocurrencies are still officially banned, plans by the People’s Bank of China towards the development of the world’s first native cryptocurrency, DCEP, are well on the way. All things considered — 500 projects registered with the Chinese government, the huge mining community, and the way China can amass the resources towards development — the country is integrating blockchain in a way that technology evangelists have been dreaming of.

And then, the coronavirus struck.

The Effects of COVID-19

COVID-19, formerly referred to as the coronavirus, or the Wuhan virus, has slowed China’s economic growth predicted drop from 6.1 percent to 5.6 percent. As a result, China’s push towards blockchain may also be gearing to a halt. Industries like transportation, tourism and offline shopping are all taking a severe hit. Small, privately-run businesses are most at risk during this delicate time; given that they contribute a significant amount towards employment and towards China’s economic growth, the government is doing their best to show support through low cost, fast approval loans. To further help small businesses, the country’s largest commercial property operator, Dalian Wanda, canceled rents and management fees until the end of February.

The impact of the virus has shown which parts of the healthcare and medical industry can be optimized, improved, and changed: Donations need to be processed and delivered, patients need to make claims and insurers must issue payouts, and doctors need to know everything about their patients’ medical history, especially so since co-morbid patients are more susceptible to the effects of the virus. Given China’s approved support for blockchain, the hospital and healthcare system that is currently overtaxed can be improved with the technology. There are five key ways this can be done.

1. Blockchain Medical Records

The first thing doctors need is your data, this includes medical history, family history, current medications, laboratory results, immunization records, and other information like clinical visit notes or radiology images. For hospitals under immense strain treating patients with COVID-19, access to this information is essential. One of the much touted benefits of blockchain is how it will help the medical industry, and nowhere is this more evident than having an immutable record of all medical data. Blockchain enterprises like MediChain were developing a platform that allows patients to share their data with doctors and laboratories. The platform can further assist by anonymously sharing the information of other patients with the same condition in order for doctors to form better diagnosis. The technology isn’t far away and can easily be implemented with China’s medical system— in the UK, the enterprise Medicalchain is already partnering with the NHS and the Mayo Clinic to integrate the technology with existing legacy systems. Access to immutable ledger of all patient’s information during this shaky time in China is ideal for already stressed doctors dealing with an unknown virus that preys on patients with comorbidity and where reinfection occurs.

2. Medicine Tracking

For Westerners, Traditional Chinese Medicine is a world far away from their own. While Olympians enjoy dry cupping, and acupuncture is a fixture of popular culture, TCM as a branch of medicine isn’t widely used. Not so in China where it is still practiced in the 21st century and is now being looked at as a means to treat Covid-19. However, many Chinese people are forced to look for their own treatment as hospitals are at the brink of capacity. A problem has emerged: similar to trusting what is real news and what is fake news, now people are unsure which medicines actually work and which don’t? And while this hasn’t happened yet, given the culture of fake goods, and the World Health Organization warning of the growing threat of counterfeit medicines, it is possible that copy-cat medicines may appear. As a result, the integration of blockchains that track approved medicines and where they are manufactured is paramount for China to better treat the virus. A chain like FarmaTrust tracks the source of medicines and helps prevent fakes from entering the pharmaceutical supply chain. Given a national vaccine tracking system was announced at the end of 2019 in China, the country is already eyeing a way to protect its citizens, and blockchain is one method to help.

3. Donation Management

Publicly donated goods for hospitals and medical workers who are desperately under-equipped were not properly delivered in a scandal involving the Chinese Red Cross Society. That isn’t the first time the Society has failed in its mission in China, more than 80 million RMB was redirected during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The question is, what can be done about it? In early February, Hyperchain and the China Xiong’an Group launched Shanzhong, a donation tracking blockchain which adds each step of the process — the donation of money and goods, the allocation of these goods, and the delivery — to the blockchain. With over 500 donations as of the time of writing, this blockchain-based method offers far more accountability than the behind-closed-doors approach of charities. That’s perhaps the biggest difference between putting the information on-the-chain instead of relying on the current system: everything can now be transparent, traceable, and immutable.

4. Data Visualization and Statistic Tracking

The blockchain offers complete trust which is why it is an ideal platform to honestly track information about the virus. Whether it’s total cases, the rate of death, or the recovery total, it’s important that the information is accurate and honest. Blockchain offers the best way to offer transparency as the world closely scrutinizes China. While there is no official blockchain-based method from China directly, Acoer’s Hashlog uses the official government statistics to map all the data. While there are other tracking tools like this one from John Hopkins University, like with donations, putting it on the chain adds that extra layer of transparency that is needed.

5. Insurance Claims

As all attention is currently on the spread of the virus, little is paid towards something important such as insurance. As the numbers affected increase, the amount of claims will increase which will put added stress on the current system. China’s push towards greater integration of technology saw the launch of Xiang Hu Bao. The platform, owned by Alibaba’s Ant Financial, is itself not an insurance platform, rather it is a ‘blockchain-based collective claim sharing platform’ with over 104 million users, and as of now, all those users are eligible for a maximum one-time payout of 100,000 yuan ($14,300 USD). As a means to deal with the virus, it offers a superior service as the blockchain can speed up claim settlements while reducing fraud. A spokesman from the company claimed it can “process claims and make payouts to participants quicker, due to the decentralised, trust-free nature of blockchain technology”. A safe and efficient means to process them is something that should definitely be payed attention to.

Closing Thoughts

In the ‘people’s war’ against COVID-19, all sorts of technology has emerged to fight it including AI to predict the spread, to drones dispersing disinfectant. It’s not a surprise that due to the the government’s support of blockchain technology, that it is being used in this war. While currently employed by several private organizations, it still needs the support from society at large as it is an effective way to deal with the problem at hand.