Anuraag Vazirani, a third year Medical Student at Hertford College, has published a systematic literature review in the Journal of Medical Internet Research – a significant achievement for an undergraduate. His work was supervised by Dr Edward Meinert from the Department of Paediatrics. The publication focuses on the use of Blockchain (Bitcoin technology) to manage Electronic Health Records in order to improve the management of medical data, and therefore improve health outcomes. Find out more about his research and future plans in the mini-interview below.
Anuraag, where did your interest in Blockchain stem from; how did you come up with the idea of applying it to the NHS?
I had been interested in the versatility of Blockchain – it has applications not only in finance and healthcare, but also in insurance claims processing, digital identification and supply chain management. Recent advances in technology have allowed doctors to treat patients more efficiently, but I think more effort needs to be put into reducing record-related delays. Having seen how some companies such as Medicalchain and Patientory are developing Blockchain solutions for healthcare, my supervisor and I worked together to develop a suitable research question to determine whether this would be feasible on a larger scale.
How difficult would the implementation of your idea be, considering the costs and environmental impact involved?
Given the recent history in this field (the major national IT project launched in 2002 to digitise records was abandoned in 2011, having cost £11 billion), a scheme looking to make records electronic should aim to build on the experience of smaller companies already involved in healthcare Blockchains. Interaction between healthcare providers is also key – one of the major benefits of Blockchain in healthcare is that patients can give consent for physicians working in different institutions to access their records. This would only be possible if the providers collaborate, working with the common goal of improving a patient’s health. By building on each other’s experiences and working together, costs otherwise lost to unrefined beta systems could be redirected to more urgent needs, and time saved with efficient online records.
Where do you see this research going? What are the next steps?
NHS England’s Long Term Plan was released just over two months ago. This outlined the national aims in terms of allowing patients more control over their healthcare data. We expect that in working towards these goals, healthcare Trusts and other providers will consider the promise Blockchain brings to the highly regulated field of sensitive medical data. Working with technology firms already involved will be key, so as to make the best use of Blockchain in a cost-efficient way.
What do you do outside university studies? What are your plans for when you graduate?
I’m a member of the Oxford University Athletics Club - we are currently preparing to host our Harvard and Yale counterparts in June, when we will race with Cambridge against the combined American team. I also help to run the UK Linguistics Olympiad, a competition for students at school that involves solving linguistic data problems, and which is used to select a team for the International Linguistics Olympiad.
After Medical School I plan to continue research into emerging medical technology, alongside clinical practise. I expect that both the Internet of Things and Automated Intelligence will play an increasing part in my career as a clinician. I hope to be involved in implementing these, and advancing the field of Healthcare Technology, which will enable the delivery of more efficient healthcare.