Unblocking the blockchain: Healthcare Perspective

In today’s ever-evolving technological landscape, concepts and jargons are originating at such a rapid stride that even the trusted encyclopaedia fails to keep up sometimes. One such word which is making headlines everywhere in 2017 is blockchain. The blockchain technology has garnered interested from the corporate as well as the Democrats alike. From the government of the United States to that of Nigeria, everyone has demonstrated a keen interest in this technology and its real world application. The earliest adopters of this technology were the Fintech companies and now the elevated level of excitement around this technology can be felt across all industries and healthcare is one of the foremost.

In spite of all the hype, however, not too many people have been able to decode blockchain or its impact in the real world, completely. The unavailability of any standard and accepted definition of this technology as well its argumentative origin (Satoshi Nakamoto, the “unknown” who designed Bitcoin) have magnified the confusion. Internet defines Blockchain as the distributed database that enables the Bitcoin digital currency as well as acts as a public ledger by keeping a track of all the transactions. The most renowned application of this technology till date is Bitcoin, however, experts suggest that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Blockchain and the healthcare as we know it

Data interoperability and security are often the most commonly cited examples of Bitcoin application in the healthcare industry. While everyone can agree that the concept of blockchain technology and systems is disruptive in nature, however considering it to cause the end of health ecosystem as we know it, is far fetched. That said, it’s an evolutionary step since blockchain-based healthcare systems or applications are capable of solving healthcare’s looming security problems. Here are few cases wherein blockchain is speculated to revolutionize the healthcare industry

Data Exchange and Interoperability:

Unarguably, the most talked application of blockchain technology is enhanced security and confidence in critical data exchange. The data exchanged via blockchain enabled systems is cryptographically secured and irrevocable. This potentially means that access to historic and real-time patient data will become seamless. The traditional cost associated with data reconciliation and management can thus be avoided without compromising on trust and security.

Billing Management:

It is predicted that an about 5–10% of overall healthcare costs are fraudulent in nature. This results from various type of human errors as well as process inefficiencies such as inability to track cases of excessive billing (billing for non-performed services). If automation of the entire claim adjustment and payment processing cycle can be accomplished, this would automatically translate into faster bill settlements as well as lower inaccuracies. The intermediaries in between payers and providers will be eliminated and subsequently, associated costs will come down.

Drug Supply Chain Efficiency:

As per global estimates, pharmaceutical companies around the world suffer annual losses of $200 billion due to counterfeits. Almost 30% of drugs sold in the market is not genuine and this along with wrecking economies of the manufacturers also poses threat to the well-being of consumers. The issue is more pronounced in the emerging markets. With the implementation of blockchain based system, it will be possible to efficiently track a chain-of-custody log. Thus, at every step and level of the supply chain, effective checks can be introduced to curb the circulation of counterfeits.

Building better collaboration across the care team:

Blockchain application enables better collaboration across the care giving team. The application makes way for frictionless share of data in between physicians, clinical assistants, and rest of the team in a highly secured environment. Effective communication in between all the members of the care giving team is critically important for patients with chronic conditions who have dozens of physicians, specialists and sub-specialists treating them. Blockchain technology helps in building enhanced communication in between physicians and specialists because they can all log into the same application at any time and view patient’s medical history. While reducing the communication gap, it also helps in eliminating a lot of manual efforts and paperwork that is often associated in such a setup. The communication established via blockchain platform is two way which means the patient can also ask questions and seek advice to the team of caregivers at once.

Reducing readmission rates and penalties:

With the advancements in medical science, quality of healthcare has increased but this has also elevated the associated costs. Health insurance premiums are not affordable always and reimbursements have terms and conditions attached. In order to reduce readmission rates, blockchain application aims to better manage the post-discharge care of patients. The easy-to-install app in the phone helps the patient in accumulating and understanding all the post-operative procedure guidelines that the hospital creates, with efficacy.

For example, patients who recently underwent open heart surgeries are advised to closely monitor their weight. The blockchain application can check in on such patients and keep a log of their weight even after they leave the hospital. Non-critical patients are also benefitted since they receive regular reminders through the app regarding medical check-ups.

While it is too early to gauge the success rate of blockchain technology in the healthcare space but it can be pointed out that, for a long-term implementation, conviction and governance within the blockchain network or consortium will play a decisive role. As we move into the paperless world, patients and providers alike need to feel confident while sharing critical online and collaborate seamlessly without fearing any data leaks.

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