Electronic Health Records Challenges

In the recent past, medical documentation and records have increasingly shifted from paper to electronic. These transitions have been largely driven by government mandates and rapid advancement in technology. Today, over 96% and 83% of critical health care hospitals and regular hospitals respectively, have adopted the use of Electronic Health Records. Additionally, 78% of office-based physicians utilize EMRs or EHRs. While highly functional EHRs can be massively beneficial to the health care system, the current systems have been largely underwhelming in performance and results. This article will look at some of the fundamental challenges facing the EHRs and how blockchain technology can overcome these shortcomings.


Challenges

Data breaches and misuse

Statistics from Health Data Security firm, Protenus, indicate that in 2017 there were over 500 breaches on healthcare clients affecting over 3.5 million patient records. The report further indicates that hacking and ransomware incidents are on the rise with increases of 20% and 133% respectively. Overall, while EHRs are helping overcome insufficiencies and fragmentations in the healthcare sectors, patients information is now more susceptible to hacking and theft.

An article by Mariya Yao on Forbes reckons that patient medical records could be worth over $1000 to hackers. EHRs contain a wealth of valuable information for attackers. Imagine the prospects for a hacker to find the name of a person, their residence, workplace, age, relatives and even financial information. Medical records are one of the most comprehensive records about an individual today.

Cost

Implementation of highly functional and efficient EHRs require significant financial outlays. Given the cost of other medical resources and equipment, it is unfeasible for most healthcare centers to invest in highly robust and functional systems. In a bid to comply with government mandates and legislation most institution have ended up purchasing under-par EHR systems. Organizations are not only concerned with cost of hardware and software but also training support, implementation, and maintenance. In 2017 there were two high profile EHR implementation that surpassed the $1 billion mark. With demand for EHRs continuing to raise the price will continue to sky-rocket.

Functionality and interoperability

Unsurprisingly, today there are over 100 EHR platforms available in the market. These platforms all vary in size and functionality. While some are extremely scalable and efficient, others are sloppy, unfriendly and limited in performance. Additionally, most of the EHR available today are proprietary and thus not designed for external collaborations and communication. These challenges of functionality and interoperability thus hinder the efficient and effective performance of the EHRs. However, the ONC is currently working on interoperability standard advisory that will hopefully streamline the current disparate systems.

Professional Relationships

The advent of EHRs has also interfered with the traditional relationships between physician and patients as well as relationships among physicians. EHRs have made interactions more impersonal and superficial by eliminating face to face interactions. A 2010 survey published by the British Journal of General Practise indicates that in-person visits tend to cover a broader area of concern, offer more connection and less risk of miscommunication as compared to use of EHRs.

Trust

Naturally, the adoption of EHRs has elicited skepticism and mistrust from both Physicians and Doctors. Most patients perceive that having their data on an electronic ledger could hurt more than help them. Most are worried about the privacy and security of their sensitive data. On the other hand, physicians are averse to IT systems since they often add to their workload instead of reducing it.


Opportunities for blockchain implementation

Can blockchain be the solution to the aforementioned challenges? Blockchain offers unparalleled resilience, security, and transparency for transactions. Regardless, of whether you believe in the recent rise of cryptocurrencies or not there is no denying that the underlying blockchain network is highly robust and scalable. The foundations of blockchain are equivalent to a public and distributed ledger which utilizes date and timestamps to establish ownership of data.

While patient care involves massive information inflows it would be impossible for physicians to access and search entire blockchains. It is therefore imperative that developers create EHR applications on top of the blockchain network. Blockchain powered EHRs will help in reducing the cost of implementation, provide an extra layer of security and resilience, increase interoperability and help in enhancing trust in the systems.


Conclusion

Overall, blockchain technology holds a great deal of promise for the healthcare industry to solve challenges of EHRs, and it is time for all providers and researchers to explore the potential. The technology creates unique opportunities to reduce implementation cost and data breaches, enhance functionality and interoperability and create trust in Electronic Health Records.