Blockchain Technology, the Next Big Healthcare Disruptor
What is blockchain and how could it change the healthcare industry?
Blockchain technology isn’t just for Bitcoin anymore. The healthcare industry has taken an interest in the problem-solving capabilities that blockchain can provide.
The healthcare industry faces a lot of challenges when it comes to data management. These challenges not only cause problems for healthcare providers and health insurance agencies, but they also trickle down to patients’ access to information and the overall patient experience.
A Fragmented System
Current healthcare systems are fragmented, and the industry is drowning in data from patient medical records to billing, research, clinical trials and more. Not only is it challenging to keep all of this data organized but it’s also hard to maintain privacy standards between different systems.
With today’s disjointed healthcare systems, the potential for fraud and privacy breaches is much higher. Fragmented systems also make any meaningful data research difficult, if not impossible.
Blockchain seeks to disrupt the healthcare industry by creating a common database of health information that doctors and providers can access regardless of the electronic medical system their office uses. Blockchain technology promises to provide higher security and privacy while reducing administrative time for doctors.
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain is the technology that first allowed Bitcoin to operate, but its uses have been versatile and far-reaching. At its core, blockchain is a record of peer-to-peer transactions, or a shared digital ledger, built from transaction blocks. There is no central authority in a blockchain system, and it relies on established cryptographic techniques. These techniques allow every network participant to interact, store, view, and exchange information without compromising privacy.
Essentially, blockchain spreads records across an entire network of replicated databases that sync. Users can only update the blocks that they have access to, and then the new data updates across the chain.
Any interaction in the blockchain is made known to all participants, and the network must verify information before its added. The immutable nature of blockchain creates a permanent audit trail for all interactions that are time and date stamped.
Possible Uses for Blockchain in Healthcare
The potential uses for blockchain technology in healthcare are seemingly endless, but here are some of the majorly disruptive applications that could cause healthcare providers to make the leap to blockchain much quicker.
Managing Medical Data
Blockchain technology could allow any medical provider to access patient’s records at the moment of need. This type of access saves time, money, confusion and can even assist in situations where life-saving treatment is needed.
Imagine if a doctor in the E.R. could access a patient’s full medical history as they’re choosing which emergency medical procedures to use and which medications to prescribe. This type of insight could save both money and lives.
According to Forbes, Medicare fraud alone caused more than $30 million in losses in 2016. Blockchain systems could help reduce this and other types of fraud and reduce admin costs by eliminating intermediaries. All activities would instead be automated and efficient.
Healthcare IT News spoke to Robert Barkovich, CEO of Health Linkages, who explained it like this: “Blockchain lets us agree on history, even if we don’t all agree or trust each other. There’s no need for a trusted third party – it’s all in the chain.”
Speed Up the Research Process
By making patient results more widely available research will flourish in several different ways. For example, if a patient grants anonymous access of their medical records to researchers, medical breakthroughs will be possible much faster than they are now.
With open access to opted-in patient results, new drug development can be facilitated based on real patient results. Additionally, blockchain could even help reduce counterfeit drug implications which result in over $200 billion in losses annually.
The results of any clinical trials would also be a part of the blockchain, which could lead to improved treatment plans and outcomes for patients. Currently, there is no way to come to any meaningful conclusions from patient data that’s coming from siloed systems. With blockchain, researchers will have enough data to identify patterns and use these to help choose treatments based on facts.
Data security breaches are becoming more frequent across industries and healthcare is not immune. According to the Protenus Breach Barometer Report, over 140 million patient records were breached between 2015 and 2016.
With more devices becoming connected to healthcare portals, the existing constructs for data storage are struggling to remain secure. The blockchain infrastructure could potentially keep this data private and secure while leveraging the benefits of connected medical devices.
A Better Patient Experience
Patients often have access to their health and medical records in fragments: it’s hard for them to put together a comprehensive health history from the pieces. Often when meeting a new doctor, patients will rely on memory rather than a record to relay their health history.
With blockchain, patients will have full access to their health history. They won’t be able to change the data in the blockchain, but they could potentially add health information, such as from fitness trackers, to paint a bigger picture of their overall health.
This shift puts a patient’s healthcare back into their own hands, showing them that it’s not the doctor who decides whether they’re healthy, but it’s the choices they make that affect outcomes. Additionally, most patients will find it much easier to access all of their information from one place.
How Fast Will Change Happen?
The healthcare industry is highly regulated and complex, so implementing any changes will likely take a while. Not only are there compliance requirements to exceed but there will be new obstacles that arise as providers implement blockchain technology.
The world of healthcare changes slowly, but blockchain systems can be implemented over time. Healthcare organizations are already vetting the possibilities of how blockchains might support operations.
Ultimately, blockchain provides the combination of transparency, security, and accountability that healthcare desperately needs. While blockchain isn’t fully mature today, the idea of putting healthcare back into the hands of individuals while increasing privacy and access is more than just compelling. It will have a massive impact on the future of healthcare data and research.