Big buzz in the news today is crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Blockchain technologies. I have to admit, I was having a hard time understanding the concept of bitcoin and Blockchain. I ran across a video of John Oliver explaining both concepts and even though it was a bit over the top, the basics were well articulated. The segment peaked my interest in Blockchain technology: how could it help healthcare providers? So, what is Blockchain technology?
- A distributed system that logs transaction records on linked blocks and store them on an encrypted digital ledger. Essentially, each block cannot be changed, deleted or otherwise modified, a permanent record that a given transaction has occurred. Rather than a central database, the Blockchain record can be distributed and shared across networks, with credentialed users able to add to but not delete or alter the transaction log. Transactions are encrypted and must be verified by the network. In a nutshell, it is a log of transactions that is replicated and distributed across multiple decentralized locations.
The two most commonly cited examples of how Blockchain can be used in healthcare are data interoperability and security. It also can improve processes and reduce cost. Below are some examples of how Blockchain can help in healthcare:
- Improved interoperability: Blockchain could solve the most widespread problem in healthcare information systems related to interoperability and non-standardization that has created data silos in the industry.
- Improve security: a patient having multiple checkpoints rather than one single gateway for sensitive data can also improve security.
- Improved efficiencies: according to Deloitte, capitalizing on this technology has the potential to connect fragmented systems to generate insights and to better assess the value of care. In the long term, a nationwide Blockchain network for electronic medical records may improve efficiencies and support better health outcomes for patients.
- Cost reduction and removing the middleman: another potential healthcare application is population health. Instead of relying on health information exchanges or other ways to aggregate data, organizations can eliminate the middleman and access patient databases on a large population scale.
There are many ways that Blockchain can help healthcare from clinical trials, medical records, health information exchanges (HIE), electronic health records (EHRs), to billing and claims management, all to which will hopefully help healthcare providers.