EY Blood Donation Blockchain Pilot 'Healthcare Breakthrough'

EY Canada has been working with Canadian Blood Services to safeguard the blood products supply chain by using blockchain to record and safeguard data

An estimated one in 10 people attending hospital every day will require some kind of blood transfusion. Whether as part of treatments for cancers or other blood diseases, in response to serious accidents or as part of major surgery, transfusions are a cornerstone of medicine.

Which is why blood donation programmes are so important, and yet, as an EY Canada case study report points out, blood donation, processing, testing, distribution and transfusion is a complex, highly regulated process. 

In the US alone, around 32,000 pints (18,184 litres) of blood products  -- which includes red cells, platelets and plasma -- are transfused every day. Without a reliable and steady supply of blood around 4.5 million Americans would die every year, and it is a similar story across the globe.

Enter blockchain, a technology that can support the monitoring and traceability of blood, from donor to patient. 

EY Canada has been working with Canadian Blood Services (CBS) on a proposal to put blood records on the blockchain. The aim is to provide real-time visibility and traceability of blood products throughout the healthcare system.

Blockchain is a decentralised digital ledger technology that records transactions across a network of computers. Each transaction is securely encrypted and linked to the previous one, like a chain of blocks. This enables transparent and tamper-proof record-keeping without the need for third-party input. 

The technology is behind cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin but has applications across the public and private sectors, including finance, supply chain management, voting systems, and digital identity verification.

In healthcare, blockchain lends itself to the management of electronic health records (EHRs) and medical data, and can also streamline clinical trials by securely recording and managing data relating to patient recruitment and consent, as well as trial results. 

EY blood donation blockchain pilot 'about saving lives' 

But EY’s trial of the technology in the realm of blood donation takes it in a new and exciting direction.

EY points out that donated blood makes its way to patients via complex blood supply chain networks. 

“Especially in a large country, each unit of blood can travel thousands of miles,” it says, adding: “Knowing where products are, and what condition they are in, is essential to running any supply chain, from minerals to food to consumer products. 

“But with blood this accountability is even more important because what’s at stake is not the continuing business of impatient customers but people’s lives.” 

For this reason, EY points out, the tracking of blood products is highly regulated.

The challenge, it says, is “to make that system as effective as possible, and to make data from the full length of the supply chain more visible, to deliver even greater benefits”.

EY Canada’s work with CBS to address this challenge involved developing proof of concept for ‘vein-to-vein monitoring’ using blockchain to power a self-updating tracking platform able to offer actionable insights.

“Blockchain is an ideal technology to add security and visibility to the blood supply network,” says EY. 

EY 'making blood data 'more visible & usable'

The company said that, by providing a platform that can guarantee the visibility, security, and reliability of records from donation to transfusion, EY teams were able to make blood product usage-data “more visible and usable”.

The pilot project Involved EY input both from Canada and the US across multiple business disciplines, and it worked with CBS teams to turn the “an idea into a robust platform that could test the theory and provide the foundations for a transformed blood system”.

“Here’s how donations work,” says Warren Tomlin, Digital and Innovation Leader for EY Canada. “You roll up your sleeve, a blood donation service takes the blood, then ships it under strict temperature requirements to a production site. There it’s separated into other products, then it’s taken to a hospital or blood bank, but then they lose visibility.”

He adds: “Although hospitals and CBS already maintain precise records that allow them to trace a blood product back to the donor, a product’s complete path to the patient is not visible in real time to anyone. Blockchain can make data from that path visible, while protecting the security of private information.”

Tomlin explains that using the new blockchain system, a new blood donation is scanned and the data is put on the blockchain, which is supported by the EY OpsChain platform, which provides supply chain  traceability and transparency using blockchain-enabled technology. 

The platform helps EY clients deliver long-term value by improving brand equity, revenue and operational performance. 

As the blood products from a particular blood donation move through the supply network, those related blood products are repeatedly scanned, and their location and status registered on a single platform, and blockchain technology protects the integrity of the data at every stage.

    Using blockchain, blood details are recorded at seven points along the supply chain:
    • When the donor donates blood at a CBS collection facility
    • When CBS performs tests on the blood, and records the results
    • When CBS processes the blood into red blood cells, platelets and plasma
    • When these constituent parts of the blood are stored in the CBS inventory
    • When logistics operators transport the blood to a hospital
    • When the hospital gives a patient a blood transfusion using the registered product

    This seven-stage scanning regimen is underpinned by Internet of Things (IoT) technology, involving a network of interconnected sensors.

    “Every time we get an IoT update of blood temperature, this is recorded on the blockchain,” says Tomlin. “Every time we know where it is by GPS, that’s also recorded on the blockchain.” 

    He adds: “We end up creating an improved chain-of-custody audit trail for these products – a single visible trail that stretches from donor to recipient.”

    Looking at the wider healthcare uses of this blockchain pilot, EY says that better tracking of blood usage presents “a huge opportunity to improve the blood system as a whole”. 

    It adds: “With real-time information about blood products we can quickly and accurately identify areas for improvement.”

    EY also points out that blockchain can help with research, allowing data analysts to “correlate patient outcomes with variables such as the gender of their blood donor, or the temperature at which the products they received had been transported”. 

    “In turn, these findings could inspire changes to the blood system that benefit patients.”

    “The work with EY has allowed CBS to imagine a very important advancement in healthcare,” says Rick Prinzen, Chief Supply Chain Officer and Vice President of Donor Relations, CBS. “Connecting donor centre donations with in-hospital transfusions and enabling hospitals to have real-time access to the whole blood component product flow and product status represents a significant advancement in driving supply chain value and improved health outcomes”.

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