Blockchain is the one word on everyone’s mind, regardless of sector or industry. While many fields stand to be transformed or even obviated by its applications, some are more in need of its modernizing ability than anything. Healthcare is one that’s easy to point to in this context, where doctors still issue paper prescriptions, and much of the non-siloed data produced by hospitals and private practices alike are written by hand instead of in code.
Yet even in the case of the coded data healthcare providers produce about their patients’ medical conditions and histories, many medical professionals are hardly allowed wide or even moderate access because of the hefty regulations placed on patient identifying information, or PII, by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
More unfortunate is that patients almost never see their own data—much less control it—which massively limits their autonomy over how their information is used to influence, change, amplify, or reduce their scope of care, and also to control how much of their data is accessible, which has a large effect of the overall value of the data at the end of the day.
Within the healthcare industry, blockchain can automate and decentralize patient-provider functions that are currently highly time-consuming and highly costly. The main pain points in healthcare revolve around data control and management. It is because of this that the main value proposition blockchain brings to the healthcare industry is enhanced security and interoperability.
More to the point, the technology’s decentralized nature creates potential for hospitals and other healthcare providers to break down data access hierarchies and provide every individual in the health delivery and health consumption value chain with equal access to relevant healthcare data, while maintaining patient privacy and upholding HIPAA. This is only possible because each block—a piece of the infinitely growing data chain—is encrypted, which means even if made public (which the blockchain essentially is), none of the blocks can be modified in any way.
From a data security perspective, credentialing both patients and healthcare professionals to view the chain, access relevant files to make informed healthcare decisions, and adding blocks to the chain chronicling additional circumstances as they arise is the ideal solution to the data security problem, since building the chain involves everyone in the network seeing, validating, and confirming each proposed next block of data in the chain.
In this way, the information would simply be viewed by all parties to make informed healthcare decisions, and health record management and identity verification would take place through automated functions to reach shared consent.
Yet by themselves, enhanced security functions aren’t valuable without data to secure. This is partially why interoperability is so important. EHR systems’ lack of interoperability with other healthcare data systems is the sole obstacle to nationwide population health management, since as of now much of EHR data is boxed in by vendors seeking to preserve profit by massively limiting sharing privileges between users.
As hinted earlier, the decentralized nature of the blockchain is the sole property that gives the potential for American EHR data to finally break free from its confines and operate interchangeably, across user types intra-organizationally.
Since, for blockchain-based interoperability to work, all users relevant to a single patient’s treatment would need to reach consent about which parts of the data to use to optimize a single patient’s care, unanimously reach consensus on using such data, and then add it collectively to a single block on the chain to move forward with treatment, EHR vendors would no longer need to worry about over-sharing of their data since they, too, would be part of the consensus process.
Blockchain-based interoperability would therefore increase trust among all parties using and giving access to patient-centered healthcare data, and reduce costs associated with sharing it intra-organizationally as well as inter-organizationally, since blocks can only be transferred to one party at a time, which is the crux of the consensus-based system.
Security and interoperability aren’t the only healthcare-derived use cases associated with blockchain, however. Claims adjudication and clinical trials are two additional and highly important use cases, since deciding whether or not to pay a claim is central to the genesis of individual treatment and associated records. Blockchain would automate the process, using identity verification and prior claims data to make the decision.
In terms of clinical trials, blockchain would only strengthen the process while decreasing the time needed to complete it. Right now, clinical trials for new drugs comprise a lengthy process, including test subject recruitment, result recording, validation with double-blind studies and so on, until FDA approval is granted and go-to-market is achieved. Blockchain has the capability to speed the first group of processes substantially by creating a layer of de-identified healthcare data that researchers could use to recruit test subjects, automate result application, study validation, and so on.
Yet the ultimate goal of applying blockchain to healthcare is the enabling of a longitudinal health record by securing data as exchanged among and between organizations in a plug-and-play format usable by clinicians across organizations. A real-time healthcare data ledger would revolutionize data collection and application.
Healthcare is just one of the many industries poised to be revolutionized by blockchain technology in the near future. Keep checking back with Silicon NYC to get more of the scoop as we continue our 8-part series on the future of blockchain and the industries it’s set to change. Stay tuned!