Data, Blockchain, and the Healthcare Industry

Blockchain is revolutionizing industries

Will blockchain revolutionize your industry?

Blockchain technology in particular (thanks to big data) has the potential in the near future to revolutionize many industries, including how we manage our healthcare data. According to the experts, blockchain, machine learning, and the Internet of Things are on a collision course, which could be one of the best things to happen to healthcare.

Although the jury is still out on the overall impact of Blockchain, we wanted to do a “temperature” check.

what exactly is blockchain?

It was first invented for the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, as an encryption technique to control monetary units and verify the transfer of funds, but with advancements, we are sure to see it integrated more and more into data management.

More specifically, blockchain is considered the latest in decentralized ledger technology. In this virtual ledger system, every member of a community holds the exact same record, and every transaction is precisely recorded and verified between them.  

Automated notifications let any person or entity know when there is a change that needs to be approved, or rejected, before anything happens to that record. Everything is visible to each member associated with that record, which provides a sense of security that the data is being “watched” … at least when it comes to cryptocurrency.

possible advantages in healthcare

The blockchain scenario offers an intriguing promise for enabling one system to use another system seamlessly in the big data environment of the future.

In this type of environment, patients no longer need to give consent for data sharing between doctors because they would already be able to access a patient’s complete medical history.  Imagine giving patients complete control over their healthcare records, instead of the providers?

A working health information exchange system could finally be established. Currently, the development of this type of system is slow because of various data security hurdles.

Gatekeepers that exist now to update and secure data are very costly, and blockchain could lay the foundation for digital workflows, helping to save billions of dollars and provide improved healthcare interoperability.

A system like this would most certainly allow smaller healthcare providers to compete with some of the larger ones. Participants in the private sector would also be able to create new data sources, like information collected by a home caregiver.

hurdles in healthcare

Blockchain networks are designed to be transparent, and hiding information is tricky. That also means that everyone who has access to the network can see a patient’s Personal Health Information. So, until more advancements occur, blockchain isn’t compliant with HIPAA regulations. Although, there are use case studies underway that are testing this. Keep reading.

There are also challenges when it comes to finding the right skill sets. Implementing this type of advanced technology requires understanding many aspects – security, law, value exchange, decentralized governance, and commercial architectures. Companies in numerous industries note that that these skills are not easy to find.

Accurate data is pivotal. On occasion, misinformation does occur, and while blockchains are independent, they still need an outside authority to validate certain information. 

One example is when it comes to opioid prescriptions. Blockchain offers no help with ensuring a provider’s authorization to distribute narcotics. Someone must be responsible for verifying that a doctor can prescribe the medication. However, having accurate, real-time data and the insight to add necessary data from an outside source can easily solve these types of dilemmas.

We may be closer than you think.

In an international study done by IBM, out of 200 healthcare executives, 16% said they have concrete plans to implement a blockchain solution within their organization; while 56% said they were considering implementation by 2020. Out of these early adopters, 70% said blockchain will improve health record data management, and 60% felt that it would aid in access to secure information.

healthcare blockchain use cases

Healthcare organizations (HCOs) are busy experimenting with this new technology according to a white paper by Lexis Nexis. Early adopters say it will transform their organization and the

quality of care they provide with better ways to keep and share information among providers, payers, patients, AND even pharmacies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. 

1) In this test case, five payers: Humana, MultiPlan, Quest Diagnostics, and UnitedHealth Group’s subsidiaries Optum and UnitedHealthcare are all participating in a blockchain pilot giving each other access to directory data. The focus is on accuracy, administration and access. If the test works,  they may also apply blockchain to cost data.

2) TrustedCare Inc. offers a cloud-based data management tool that allows all providers across a care team to see a unified view of a patient’s care. 

3) Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center uses blockchain to give patients complete control over their health records says this case study. They can monitor changes such as new diagnoses and determine who can see the sensitive data. This record management system also provides patients with a “transparent picture of their medical history.” 

In general, these high-profile trials are small tests of bits of blockchain functionality. It seems there is a lot of excitement over the possibilities of blockchain. It’s also clear that we lack validated evidence that blockchain will solve the types of challenging problems that come with managing healthcare data. Guess we’ll wait and see …

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