Should Healthcare CIO’s really care about Blockchain?

With the high awareness and rapid proliferation of blockchain articles and news bytes in the healthcare industry, it is important to understand the exact use cases and what you stand to gain by adopting this technology in the healthcare domain.

Blockchain, inherently is a distributed ledger system that stores immutable data records and enables sharing in a peer-to-peer environment in a not so trustworthy network of participants. It relies on time-tested cryptographic techniques to allow each participant to view and exchange data without having a central authority overseeing the whole process.

Healthcare today — what’s broken?

Today, the healthcare data lives in silos, where each patient encounter data is stored in customized data stores with the providers or with the payers. There is a very minimal opportunity to share the information when it is really required. This leads to a fractured view of a user’s health as no single party has all the information at hand to make a comprehensive diagnosis and take a holistic view. Then there is an issue of storing all this data securely. There might be instances where a genuine human mistake or a malicious attempt could hide an important health detail, leading to patient safety and trust concerns.

What are the opportunities for health care?

Blockchain-powered health information exchange could unlock the true value of interoperability. Blockchain-based systems have the potential to reduce the overheads and costs of intermediaries. This technology also has the potential to connect fragmented systems and help generate meaningful content that assist in personalized care and add value to healthcare systems. For example, in the future, blockchain based Electronic Health Records (EHR) might be used to document data.This will not only make the process much more efficient but will also make it lot more simpler for the patient to control and manage his / her health data.

Fig. 1. Healthcare: Blockchain benefits

Advantage Blockchain!

Blockchain acts as an enabler for global interoperability by facilitating the following key features:

  1. Single, longitudinal patient records: Longitudinal patient records — compiling encounters, diagnostics, test results, prescriptions, treatments, including inpatient, ambulatory and connected devices data thereby assisting the doctors in coming up with accurate ways of delivering care.
  2. Master patient indexes: Often healthcare data records get mismatched or duplicated as they are retrieved from multiple sources. Different EHRs use different data schemas which makes it impossible to have a unique id for an individual patient. In a Blockchain application the entire patient record set is used to generate a unique hash which can be used throughout the lifetime. The hash uses multiple health data elements to identify the patient.
  3. Patient controlled data: Blockchain systems can entrust the responsibility of healthcare data to the patients themselves, who can permit or deny the access to their data, based on the need. They can control who can view the data and can also determine what data and for how long can they view it.
  4. Claims adjudication: Payers can use and implement auto-adjudication for claim verification and approvals. These claim rules can be implemented in decentralized way in smart contracts and reduce the time and efforts for claim processing. Decentralization also eliminates potential human errors and fraudulent practices.
  5. Drug trace-ability: A study recorded that US businesses lose up to $200 billion annually because of drug counterfeiting. The transparency and provenance features provided by Blockchain can help fight the fake drug menace. Drugs once prescribed can be traced to see that they reach the intended patient and not by any anti-social elements. Blockchain can help in tracing the complete path from source to the consumer.
  6. Data exchange and availability: Healthcare applications based on blockchain can enable ease of data exchange by use of APIs for retrieval and sharing of critical health data on-demand thereby saving many lives in times of emergencies and critical care.

CIO’s should start digging deep into the Blockchain use cases better as this would aid their organisations to solve the many current problems in healthcare. Though Blockchain technology presents numerous opportunities for health care, it is still a work in progress. However, there are a few technical, organizational, economic, legal and regulatory issues that need to be sorted out before Blockchain can become the preferred healthcare platform for the enterprises.

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