Blockchain can be the answer healthcare informatics has been looking for. According to Google Trends, this topic has become significant in this past year, peaking just at the end of 2017. Could we be right around the corner from establishing a standardized set of healthcare information and even put the patient in control of their records? This surge is primarily due to increased use of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency but the concept of these principles is fairly new, with the first white paper on the subject being published in 2008. As a horizontal innovation, it isn’t limited only to the financial sector, but has the ability to improve efficiencies in many industries, including healthcare.
What is blockchain technology and why is it important?
For obvious reasons, openly sharing information electronically raises some concerns… especially when it comes to patient information. Blockchain is a possible remedy for these worries because, at the root, it’s a ledger of records within a distributed system. Meaning: in order for any type of transaction to occur, all participants must agree on the transaction. Because of its decentralized (meaning multiple systems must agree on a transaction) and encrypted nature, it allows the storing and sharing of data to be extremely secure. It’s monitored by everyone, heavily protected and there is not one entity “owning” the information.
What does this mean for healthcare?
- One patient record across multiple systems. There are current leaps being made in having one global patient ID. By leveraging this technology, there might be a future where patients are in control of their personal health information.
- Smart contracts, allowing payments to be swift and controlled. A version of blockchain has “smart contracts,” which essentially hold the transaction (as a typical notary would) until both parties fulfill their obligations. By using this tool, improvements in revenue cycle management are apparent. Blockchain can coordinate payments between payers, providers, banks, and patients, completely eliminating the need for data reconciliation.
- Transparency among medical records. In light of the ongoing interoperability problem, healthcare entities can query the blockchain to access patient records. This can help strip the inefficiencies of having multiple EHR systems and silos of patient data spread out among different systems and technologies, creating one cohesive, secure warehouse.
- Tackle public health crises. Blockchain can be used to combat something as large as the opioid overdose crisis. In the US alone, 66% of overdose deaths in 2016 (63,600 lives) involved an opioid. By incorporating a global ledger-like system into the pharmaceutical industry, manufacturers would be able to track and safeguard medications that are produced throughout the entire system from supplier to pharmacy.
- Improve patient experience. The National Quality Forum believes that this technology can improve patient-related outcome measures (PROM). PROMs, unlike clinical outcomes, are patient-focused assessments that determine the burden and impact of the disease or illness. Blockchain allows for all sorts of data (including wearables, treatment feedback assessments, medication adherence, just to name a few) to directly feed into a medical record with no concern of the security or validity of the data.
Headed in the right direction, athenahealth, one of Privia Health’s primary electronic health record systems, started a program called More Disruption Please (MDP) Labs in September 2017. They partnered with SimplyVital Health (SVH), a blockchain technology company seeking to create efficiencies in bundled payments for patients.
“The shift to value-based care means new opportunities for disrupting and improving the current healthcare model, and SVH believes the adoption blockchain technology for healthcare records will result in improved patient outcomes and lower costs across the board,” says SimplyVital Health CEO Katherine Kuzmeskas.
One thing is guaranteed: blockchain is still in its infancy and in the very early development stages. There are still technical costs in setting up the proper blockchain infrastructure, so it depends on the willingness of large healthcare organizations to make the initial investment. Are you ready to jump on the blockchain bandwagon?