Blockchain in Healthcare

Co-authored by Prateek Rastogi

The evolving need for seamless flow of data in a secure and inter operable manner is pushing healthcare IT through significant changes. To keep up with the data requirements of the industry, healthcare organizations are ready to experiment innovative ideas and technologies. The latest entrant to attract considerable interest in this context is Blockchain, a promising technology to tackle the long standing concerns of privacy, security and integrity.

Block Chain — an ingenious invention to record everything of value

Blockchain is a distributed shared ledger enabling tracking of financial or non-financial transactions without the involvement of a central clearing authority. It is built upon the idea of an immutable digital ledger within a community recording transactions chronologically and publicly, allowing every community user to send and verify transactions. An array of cutting edge transactional applications provide the trust, accountability and transparency of the network(1).

Though Blockchain was initially popular as the technology behind bitcoin (one of its first successful application), it has extended beyond its original adopters as a generic digital ledger tool into industries like insurance, supply chain, legal and retail. Intellectual property protection firms, document time-stamping applications and secure warranty wallets helping out insurance and retail industries have adopted block chain. Trading organizations are connecting members of their global supply chain through Blockchain to allow direct exchange of import documents solving one of the major problems of the shipping industry. As a very innovative application of Blockchain in the global supply chain context, a new retail player called Provenance allows real time search of supply chain data by consumer, which means a consumer scanning a code on a food product, could track where the ingredients came from, when it was packed and who certified it.

Healthcare with Blockchain

Blockchain technology’s applicability in the healthcare industry is evolving and maturing with time and implementation. Despite obscurity of its application in healthcare, the key constructs like scalable data integrity, and interoperability of information with desired security are Blockchain’s scoring points for Healthcare organizations to experiment and adopt.

Key constructs of Blockchain

Technology firm Guardtime has partnered with Estonian government run eHealth foundation in March 2016, to build an electronic health record system on a secure Blockchain infrastructure(2). In April 2016, Gem, a California based Blockchain Company introduced Gem Health and announced the collaboration with Philips Health. Gem Health focus is to establish standards for data recording and identity management(3). In October 2016, Healthcare innovation firm, Hashed health announced their partnership with Martin Ventures to foray into creation of a consortium of healthcare stakeholders (payers and providers) and address the problem of electronic medical records by designing commercial vendor neutral solutions(4). IBM Watson Health’s two year agreement with US FDA to conduct a joint research on efficient, secure and scalable exchange of health records using Blockchain4 and involvement of Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT further strengthens the belief in the concept(5). There’re several other shining examples of Blockchain implementation by the technology enthusiasts to tackle the problem of data portability and privacy in healthcare.

Potential use cases and Challenges:

Healthcare needs innovation not only in its practices and processes but also in the technology to support the ambitions of reducing waste by automation and optimization. The potential areas where Blockchain could offer help in Healthcare are:

 Enabling tracking of patients in real time and providing true interoperability of medical records

 Blockchain based smart contracts can automate contracting processes and save time

 Detecting leakages in the supply chain and reducing fraud and abuse

 Improving provider data accuracy by real time updates

With a disruptive technology like Blockchain, which is new with little cases of implementation, and moreover involving significant infrastructure costs, the hesitation for adoption is natural. The presence of legacy system and readiness of the government to impose a new approach pave way to build Blockchain solutions. Post this the biggest issue is the lack of agreed upon data standards, which are required to achieve optimal interoperability. Another challenge is to decide on who would bear the implementation and maintenance cost for such a massive network. Shall there be a government run Blockchain? Will the infrastructure be developed by a consortium of interested payers and providers? These questions need an answer to continue the dialogue.

Blockchain is a promising technology with infinite potential. Well thought out strategies to adopt its constructs holistically by developing proof-of-technology internally or integration with technology partners should be the next move for Healthcare players. Proof-of-concepts for specific use cases should be developed in Blockchain labs and should be experimented in industry wide hackathons. Developing blueprints as an experimentation would help gaining client’s trust for Blockchain adoption and would harness the true potential of the revamping efforts.