July 18, 2018
Take a wider look at healthcare delivery and you will agree that the quality of the patient care depends on the information and data. However, mere information is not sufficient. What is critical here is timely access to this information. Since this information is scattered across several devices and systems, it is not always possible to access it on the go. Besides, the existing infrastructure faces some serious challenges when it comes to information exchange which, in turn, may affect patient outcomes negatively.
What arrives as a good news in such a scenario is blockchain technology. It boasts of multiple success stories in data management and exchange across the industries with its most use cases in financial services. Therefore, healthcare industry also holds high expectations from blockchain technology to enhance patient care like never before.
Before we move on to how blockchain can transform the healthcare infrastructure, let us take a quick look at what exactly blockchain is. In most fundamental terms, it can be understood as a distributed database which records and stores data transactions on an encrypted digital ledger. Developed in 2008, it saw its first application in the financial services industry where it was the most radical component of Bitcoin. It is different from other databases in a manner that it is decentralized in nature and not controlled by a single authority.
Any information or information which is stored in blockchain is called a transaction and each transaction in the converted into a block with restricted access. It is accessible to all the authorized users in a network using a secret private key. The transactions are recorded in a chronological order and a record once entered cannot be edited.
Blockchain technology is turning out to be one of the biggest disruptors in the healthcare industry today.
Experts can realize its capabilities to integrate disparate systems and applications to obtain valuable insights and invent a new benchmark of patient care. They can thus construct a shared pool of health information which doctors, providers, and clinicians can access with an authorized access irrespective of the systems and applications they are using. Blockchain can also ensure a stronger data privacy and security, cut down time on repetitive administrative tasks and conducting research to provide predictive care and improve overall public health.
The uses of healthcare blockchain are not limited and the avenues it can open up can only be imagined. For now, let us look at a few aspects of care delivery where blockchain can and aims to make a big difference.
Tests, results, medical records, prescriptions, billing, research etc.–the healthcare industry is always flooded with an enormous amount of data and this flood continues to grow bigger every second. The sanctity of this data is of paramount importance in meeting EHR objectives. However, there are a couple of major challenges in achieving this goal. Firstly, the entry and manipulation of data vary from one EHR to another. Secondly, there is a considerable possibility of data mismatch and duplication. With blockchain, an entire data set is stored in the ledger which helps the authorized users sift through multiple addresses and keys to identify the exact patient. Thus, it works as a one-stop shop for the entire medical history of an individual.
Medicare claim is an area of healthcare which has been replete with frauds. Every year, claim-related frauds and errors cost millions of dollars globally. Thankfully, blockchain can helm in minimizing such instances. Since all data transactions in it are validated, there is a minimal scope of fraud as the claims can be easily verified. Blockchain can also set up an automated and efficient billing system which can cut the admin costs significantly.
The effectiveness of drugs is instrumental in the success of a treatment. Blockchain applications can be a valuable solution in this direction. Upon their permission, it can use patient data to help pharma companies develop new drugs. Not only will this contribute to increased successful treatment, faster recovery, and better public health but also prevent manufacturing of counterfeit drug that cost pharma companies fortunes annually.
Blockchain technology can also enable the manufacturers to track the inventory at every stage of its lifecycle right from the factory to the pharmacy. This can minimize the scope of delay and errors phenomenally. It can also help them monitor the associated cost and labor. One of the biggest advantages of blockchain in the healthcare supply chain is that it can empower the patients or buyers to check the authenticity of the drug.
Interoperability, if realized fully, can work wonders in the patient care domain. Although healthcare blockchain does not look to replace electronic health records (EHR), at least in near future, nor does it aim to abridge all data management gaps, it can surely contribute to a better realization of medical interoperability by making data storage reliable and information exchange secure and quick. Not only will this minimize the time required in reconciling the data but also ensuring the patients have access to quicker and more accurate medical assistance and treatment. It is fair to say that with blockchain, it is possible to unlock the absolute power of interoperability.
Data breach is a potential threat to a patient record management. As the number of connected devices in the medical field increases, information security becomes a major concern. Last year alone witness 477 healthcare breaches reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Blockchain is gradually turning out to be a perfect solution for this challenge given it is a decentralized, private, secure and immutable infrastructure.
The amount and nature of healthcare data being generated every day can be key to several breakthroughs in the medical field. However, the enormous amount of valuable healthcare data is currently scattered across numerous diverse systems and it is not possible to gather all of it.
With patients’ approvals, researchers can use their health information anonymously and then blockchain can use it for several medical innovations and finding treatment for the ailments that are incurable today.
Blockchain has already sent strong ripples through the healthcare universe. Organizations are testing it ceaselessly to explore how it can enhance their operations. It will be helpful to remember that blockchain is a sustainable technology and has to be designed keeping in mind a long-term future.
Although blockchain technology in healthcare will not be able to offer a comprehensive set of solutions to the industry, it will surely be able to set the growth vehicle in motion. It requires willingness and vision for it to turn into elixir. Besides, there are several businesses, economic and behavioral issues to tackle on the way before the healthcare organizations enthusiastically start to embrace it.
What is evident as of data, however, is that blockchain has succeeded in giving birth to a wide range of possibilities in the healthcare corridor. It is only the beginning. There is a lot more to come which will be an interesting watch.