Can Blockchain Fix the US Healthcare System?

For many Americans, healthcare is one of their biggest worries. Medical debt is the single largest cause of personal bankruptcy in the USA. But it’s not just the patients who are unhappy. In only the last few years, physician burnout has also increased from 45% to 54%.

As an industry, it’s expected to reach $8.7 trillion dollars a year by 2020, and it’s swamped by data that isn’t being put to use. In fact, more than that — it’s actually causing the system to break down.

That’s why more and more tech experts and healthcare executives have begun to ask whether the blockchain could be the solution.

A digital headache

The problem is that in the United States and other places where a wide array of stakeholders are involved — patients, doctors, hospitals, insurance providers, and more — it’s hard to transmit data between each party effectively. And effectively doesn’t just mean quickly and easily. It also means securely.

It’s not a new problem. A year ago, senator Tom Price argued, “we’ve turned physicians into data entry clerks.” For over 10 years now, hospitals and doctors have been using electronic medical records, but records are still filled out manually, and many of the shareholders we mentioned don’t communicate with each other.

For instance, how well does your doctor, your local hospital, and your insurance provider automatically share your data? If you move doctors, does your record follow? In many cases it does, and it should, but the system is rife with errors that can unduly complicate the care process and cause patients severe stress in the meantime.

The cost of privacy

Although the development of the internet has lead to electronic medical records, it’s also lead to problems that many in the medical field didn’t anticipate, and don’t appreciate: patient record privacy.

There have been so many prominent data hacks lately that it’s hard to keep count. Yahoo lost 3 billion accounts, Target lost 110 million, Equifax had 143 accounts compromised. Even Adult Friend Finder suffered an attack on 412 million accounts. The beat goes on. For many sectors, it’s beginning to look like massive data breaches are simply a fact of life in the digital age.

And don’t imagine for a second that healthcare hasn’t yet been affected. In fact, your data could be compromised even now. According to a recent report from Deloitte, there were 112 million healthcare record data breaches from hacking. And it’s estimated that in 2016, a full one third of health care recipients were a victim of data breaches.

Let’s get collaborative

A fundamental truth of the healthcare system is that it’s founded on collaboration. As we mentioned, when patients, doctors, insurance companies and other stakeholders don’t communicate, records can’t be shared and the quality of care suffers. But when they do, they leave themselves open to massive data breaches.

Make no mistake, the price is big either way. In a fragmented system, where the data is not shared effectively, the costs can be stunning. Wasteful or fraudulent billing is estimated to take up roughly 5–10% of all healthcare costs. Roughly 4.6 million claims are processed daily in the United States, and the system is slow, complex, and full of problems. This includes abuse and billing for services that weren’t actually performed. Fraud of Medicare alone is estimated to cost $30 million in loses.

It’s a system based on trust, where trust is sorely lacking. Studies show that patient trust for their insurance providers is low. That’s because the entire system lacks transparency. Too much data is being circulated, and nobody really has any control over where it goes.

Enter: the blockchain

For most people, the word blockchain and the word bitcoin are permanently connected. But although the cryptocurrency is the most famous implementation of the blockchain, it’s not necessarily related.

That’s because the blockchain is simply the underlying technology behind bitcoin. It’s a means of storing data through a distributed ledger. That means the data is recorded automatically in multiple places, so no one individual has control over it. And because each new piece of data is coded into the last piece, it’s immutable — it can’t be faked or fraudulent.

On top of that, it can actually be more secure than current databases. That’s because blockchains can be public or private. When public, anyone can participate and view the data on the chain. When private, a key controls access and determines who can view what data and add to the blockchain.

It’s still early days for blockchain technology, but the medical community has made its first tentative steps to discovery of use cases. In 2017, 16% of healthcare execs already had plans to use blockchain in some way.

And perhaps more exciting, over half expected to have such plans or implementations by 2020.

They’re not going it alone, either. Enterprise relationship platforms for the blockchain like Loyakk Vega are designed to help manage highly sensitive data, making it easy to send information and control who has access at any time. It’s a custom solution that takes the guesswork out of blockchain and implements it in a way that’s designed for multinational entities with billions of dollars at stake.

A viable solution

Because the blockchain creates an immutable, unchangeable record, it could present a powerful solution. Imagine a common database of healthcare information that can instantly share data across the entire network of healthcare services.

This is especially valuable in systems where pay is based on performance. An instant certificate of medical necessity can substantiate that care was required and then provided. This information can instantly be shared with other healthcare providers and verified by insurance payers. Indeed, payments could be triggered automatically with the use of smart contracts, eliminating the need for review, speeding up the entire process.

But perhaps the most promising aspect of this is the security involved. In a blockchain system, it’s the patient who controls their own data — by holding the key to the private blockchain. That would allow them to own access and prevent data breaches that plague the system at the moment.

Healthcare stands at a crossroads. It’s one of the world’s largest industries, but it’s struggling with more data than it can possibly handle. That’s what makes it one of the most exciting — and ripe for disruption. Highly sensitive information needs to be quickly and efficiently shared with a wide range of shareholders in a network of enterprises and individuals. It’s the perfect use case for blockchain.