The spread of COVID-19 has sent shockwaves through medical systems, global supply chains, and other key pillars of society. Around the world, countries are deploying technology to help solve some of the biggest COVID-related challenges.
What’s new is the form these technologies are taking. Given the enormous scale of the global crisis, bold new approaches with emerging technologies are taking center stage.
A blockchain is a distributed ledger that can store digital information in public, private, and hybrid databases. Blockchains can create discrete and immutable units of digital information that cannot be duplicated, infected, or invaded. One of those unit types of digital information format is cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin. Blockchain-generated cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are looked at as possible alternatives to fiat currencies for reasons ranging from digital convenience to the risks of handling paper currency…which lately has included the threat of coronavirus.
Here are some of blockchain’s most important uses in the face of COVID-19:
Blockchain Technology in Supply Chain
One of the harshest lessons that we’ve learned from COVID-19 is that global supply chains can be extremely fragile and essential for everyday survival. A growing dependence by many nations on China as a cheap source of goods resulted in jarring shortages when the virus ripped through the Chinese economy. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently published COVID-19 guidelines, listing blockchain managers in food distribution as “critical infrastructure workers.”
Blockchain gives stakeholders the ability to accurately track and trace the movement of goods across supply chains. We’re seeing more and more food producers trying out blockchain as a new way to manage inventory, monitor storage conditions while goods are in transit, and ensure product authenticity.
Grocery stores and specialty food organizations are also using blockchain to ensure that food and other essential items arrive on time and intact. Some of the tech companies providing those blockchain supply chain solutions include well-known giants such as IBM and SAP, and upstarts like us.
With a fast-moving pandemic such as COVID-19, the whole world must act fast to enact aggressive tracking and containment measures. Unfortunately, numerous countries were ill-prepared to make that happen, with information flowing too slowly between governments and health enforcement agencies to boot. The result has been bigger and bigger waves of infection.
The problem lies in reliance on obsolete legacy systems. While many countries did have surveillance systems designed to track new diseases and control existing conditions, those systems have proven to be outdated, slow-moving, hard to access, and often inaccurate.
Here again, blockchain has helped to fill the void.
Partnering with Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, and Hacera, the World Health Organization has launched a blockchain-based COVID-19 data hub and data-sharing platform. WHO’s goal is to help diagnose those infected with COVID-19 as quickly, efficiently, and accurately as possible.
Elsewhere, blockchain-enabled applications developer Acoer offers a data visualization tool to track the virus. That tool, combined with Hedera Hashgraph’s distributed ledger technology, enables scientists and journalists to understand the spread of COVID-19 better.
Blockchain Technology for Healthcare Data Management
Government agencies, hospitals, and healthcare providers have always struggled to share data efficiently. A recent KLAS report showed that 86% of U.S. healthcare providers still haven’t achieved the level of interoperability for data systems to work effectively. That problem has become even more damaging as speedy diagnoses and treatment can mean the difference between life and death from COVID-19.
Blockchain can help. A blockchain-based solution would allow both healthcare institutions and patients to maintain control over their data. It would render the 35%-40% of healthcare data that’s currently unencrypted to become fully encrypted and secure, helping to prevent the massive patient data leaks that have plagued the industry. Finally, the smart contracts generated by blockchains would drastically reduce the gigantic amounts of unnecessary overhead that currently exist within healthcare systems.
Blockchain Technology & Insurance Payouts
Another part of the healthcare industry thrust into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic is the insurance sector. One major insurer, Blue Cross (Asia-Pacific) Insurance, has used its blockchain platform to reduce the amount of paperwork for claims made in Hong Kong. Blue Cross Insurance claims that its platform can manage more than 1,000 transactions per second.
That’s good for growth, with the company’s medical claims app seeing double-digit monthly policyholder user base growth since the app’s launch in 2019. Patients using the app can see the result of their claims within a day after the hospital visit. Best of all, fast claim-processing times mean faster insurance payouts, an absolute must at a time when billions of people around the world are feeling the economic crunch caused by the virus.
Digital Currencies & Electronic Payments
The World Health Organization is thus encouraging consumers to use contactless, cashless payments instead of physical cash, which could potentially spread COVID-19. Related to the idea of cashless payments are digital currencies, be they digital money, electronic money, or electronic currency, in the form of either cryptocurrency or central bank digital currencies.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for China to focus on blockchain development as part of the country’s effort to launch its own digital currency. A digital payment system would enable the government to scale back on paper fiat transactions, while also adding a tool that could help fight societal scourges such as terrorist financing and money laundering. Japan is considering deploying its own digital currency as well.
Millions of Chinese consumers already use digital payment systems through smartphone apps such as WeChat and Alipay. These kinds of modern financial service providers aren’t as established in other countries, though their popularity is gradually rising. Once consumers around the world get used to paying with their phones during a global pandemic, that could become the norm once COVID-19 starts to subside.