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Beneath the hype is a technology that could solve many logistical problems that plague medicine.

EVERY YEAR IN THE UNITED STATES, billions of dollars’ worth of unopened, unexpired prescription drugs are destroyed or tossed in the garbage—at a time when a quarter of the U.S. population says it can’t afford prescribed medicines and sometimes goes without. Many states have set up donation and reuse programs through pharmacies, charitable clinics and hospitals, but such programs have done little to solve the big problem of wasting perfectly good, desperately needed medications.

Good Shepherd Pharmacy, a nonprofit in Memphis, has been part of an effort to collect unsold medicine from drug manufacturers and wholesalers, with the goal of dispensing it to uninsured and low-income patients. But the initiative has gotten bogged down by the hands-on work it demands from participants, according to Phil Baker, founder and CEO of Good Shepherd. “There’s a lot of paperwork and phone calls,” he says. So his pharmacy, along with Lipscomb University’s College of Pharmacy in Nashville and the University of Memphis, recently announced the first steps in an effort to track prescription waste more easily and link needy patients with prescription drugs. The backbone of this global network is blockchain.


SOME BLOCKCHAIN IDEAS ARE already in motion, demonstrations of what John Bass, founder and CEO of a blockchain startup in Nashville (Hashed Health), calls “low-hanging fruit” that demonstrate how the technology can deliver real value.

For the past two years, for example, U.S.-based Spiritus Partners has worked on a pilot project with National Health Services Scotland and other participants to test how blockchain might be used to track medical devices. “We’re interested in whether a device is safe at the point of care—in an acute care setting, outpatient facility, or at home, or as an implant,” says Susan Ramonat, CEO of Spiritus Partners.

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