Technology

Blockchain and Healthcare: a New Model for Access and Privacy

While blockchain is best known for its role in making cryptocurrency viable, enabling solutions like bitcoin and Ethereum, at its core, it is a generic tool designed to keep data in a secure, distributed and encrypted ledger. This makes blockchain incredibly appealing to doctors, hospitals and payers clamoring for safer and consistent access to a patient’s entire health history.

For almost a decade, hospitals, doctors and payers have been hoping that EHRs would usher in a level of standardization to improve the quality of health care. Since we find ourselves in the era of Big Data, this seems like a reasonable expectation. But while federal laws and incentive programs have made health care data more accessible, the vast majority of hospital systems still can’t easily or securely share their data.

But now they could – with the help of blockchain.

A blockchain is comprised of three parts: a distributed network, a shared ledger with validated IDs, and digital transactions. The ledger is spread across a network of synchronized, replicated databases visible to anyone with access rather than being stored in a single centralized location.

Not only could blockchain facilitate doctor/patient interaction, but it has tremendous potential to help in other ways across the broader healthcare ecosystem. Take payers for example. They could leverage it to develop “smart contracts,” with the network agreeing on the way a contract is constructed and executed. Blockchain could also drive efficiency in back office systems. Research indicates that about 6 percent of all claims are denied because of incomplete or incorrect information. Blockchain could enable the updating of information continuously and distributing it to the right network.

Many organizations are currently investigating potential applications of blockchain to healthcare data. Probably the best known effort is The MedRec platform being developed by the MIT Media Lab and tested at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Their solution provides decentralized EMR management using blockchain tech to manage authentication, accountability and data sharing.

There are certainly many hurdles to overcome ranging from specific technology requirements to a skeptical public. To be honest, probably the most difficult challenge to blockchain adoption will be industry inertia. The current participants in the healthcare system are used to owning the data, keeping it siloed and not making it visible or easily accessible to other people in the network, especially patients and users.

Successful adoption of blockchain in the healthcare vertical is not going to be a trivial undertaking. But the momentum is underway and the potential benefits have the potential to outweigh the risk. We look forward to the rising tide of innovative applications that the blockchain will enable across the healthcare ecosystem.

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