VP, Leading Healthcare

Everywhere you turn, it seems like someone has something to say about blockchain. It’s making headlines at technology events and in the news—even neighbors are talking about it.

Despite the frequent headlines and all the hype that goes with them, blockchain is a difficult concept for many people to understand. Is it a technology or is it a new currency? Is it reality or is it just hype? As with many new things in the technology world, it’s easy to get confused initially, depending on how much information and education is available in the beginning. Two things that I can tell you is that blockchain is becoming disruptive and a lot of industries (Financial, Insurance, Healthcare, Music Industry, Airline Industry and even governments) are adopting or testing it.

Many people today identify blockchain with Bitcoin. Bitcoin by far is the most commonly known implementation of blockchain technology. Bitcoin, however, is only one of several hundred applications using the blockchain system today.

Who is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a company headquartered in Luxembourg that provides a software platform for digital assets.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a database or a ledger that maintains a continuously growing list of data records or of transactions. It’s like an Excel spreadsheet, but it accepts inputs from lots of different parties. The database or ledger can only be changed when there is a consensus amongst a group. Simply put, the technology is a write once and read only record of digital events that is shared peer to peer between different parties (networked database systems). Blockchain technology is a permanent record of online transactions or exchanges. That makes it more secure, and there is no need for a central authority to approve a transaction. Each transaction or exchange can be thought of as a block, and the ledger that links them together can be thought of as the chain—hence, the name Blockchain.

So, is it like a Spreadsheet?

Kind of, but it has certain qualities that make it better than a traditional database:

  • It’s shared publicly. Servers or nodes maintain the entries (known as blocks) and every node sees the transaction data stored in the blocks when created.
  • It’s decentralized. As mentioned above, there is no central authority required to approve transactions and to set rules.
  • It’s more secure. The database is unable to be changed and records are irreversible. Posts to the ledger cannot be revised or tampered with even by the originators of the database. As blockchains control information, it avoids duplications.

Are there opportunities for Blockchain in Healthcare?

Blockchain technology has the potential to transform healthcare. It will place the patient at the center of the healthcare ecosystem and will increase the security, privacy and interoperability of health data. Blockchain technology could streamline the sharing of medical records in a secure way, protect the patient’s sensitive data and give patients more control over their information.

The following is an example of how blockchain technology could be used in healthcare: A doctor sees a patient and then must write a prescription. The patient will agree to have a reference or a “pointer” added to a blockchain. Instead of payments, this blockchain would record critical medical information in an incorruptible cryptographic database maintained by a network of computers (that is accessible to anyone running the software). Every reference that the doctor logs on the blockchain would then become part of the patient’s record no matter which electronic system the doctor was using. Any caregiver could then use it without worrying about incompatibility issues.

This technology could be a model for Health Information Exchanges (HIE) by making Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) more efficient and secure. Capitalizing on blockchain technology has the potential to connect fragmented systems to generate insights and to better access the value of care.

What are some of the potential use cases within the healthcare industry?

  • Clinical Health Data Exchange and Interoperability: When you think of blockchain and healthcare, data exchange comes to mind. Blockchain could enable data exchange systems that are cryptographically secured and irrevocable. This would enable seamless access to historic and real time patient data while eliminating the burden of data reconciliation not to mention time and cost.
  • Drug Supply Chain Integrity: The pharmaceutical companies incur an enormous loss due to counterfeit drugs worldwide. It is a major problem in the pharmaceutical industry as 10-30% of the drugs sold in developing countries are counterfeit. As mentioned previously, a main characteristic of blockchain is security. A blockchain system could ensure a chain of custody log, tracking each step of the supply chain at the individual drug level.
  • Bill Management and Claims Adjustments: Today, 5-10% of healthcare costs are fraudulent, resulting from excessive billing or even billing for non-performed services. Blockchain systems can provide realistic solutions for minimizing billing-related frauds. By automating most claims and payment processing activities, blockchain systems could help eliminate the need for intermediaries and reduce administrative costs and time for both the providers and payers.
  • Pharma Clinical Trials: The results from clinical trials are going unpublished as much as half of the time. U.S. law requires the results of medical research for drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be submitted to a database called ClinicalTrials.gov. ClinicalTrials.gov is a web-based resource that provides patients, healthcare professionals, researchers, etc. with easy access to information on publicly and privately supported clinical studies on a wide range of diseases and conditions. With certain clinical trials going unpublished, it creates safety issues for everyone and especially patients. Blockchain enabled, time stamped records of clinical trials, protocols and results could potentially address the issues of inaccurate reporting, thereby reducing the incidence of fraud and error in clinical trial records.
  • Cyber security and Healthcare IoT: We all know that the healthcare industry over the last year has been a target for data breaches. In 2016, these data breaches impacted 27 million patients. Some of these breaches were the result of hacking or ransomware attacks. Others were the result of insider threats. Regarding healthcare IoT, it’s no secret that medical devices are on the rise. By 2020, it is estimated that 20-30 billion healthcare IoT connected devices will be used globally. Blockchain solutions have the potential to bridge the gaps of device data interoperability, which helps ensure security, privacy and reliability.

Final Thoughts

We are in the digital world. It is a scary world, but imagine never having to worry about your digital security ever again. Identity authentication and authorization using Blockchain technology makes it more secure. The technology offers a solution to many digital identity issues, where identity can be authenticated in an irrefutable and secure manner. And that means IDs, Passports, Birth Certificates, etc. all will be more secure.

Long-term, a nationwide blockchain network for EMRs may improve efficiencies and support better health outcomes for patients. In my opinion, however, it is not fully mature or ready to be immediately applied. I believe a custom-built healthcare blockchain must be constructed before it can be adopted by healthcare organizations nationwide. The healthcare industry needs to focus on establishing a blockchain association/consortia to foster ecosystem partnerships and to create standards or frameworks for future implementation on a large scale across healthcare use cases. Blockchain will change the physics of data sharing in healthcare.

For more information about healthcare solutions from ePlus, visit https://www.eplus.com/industries/healthcare.  

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