A frontier in data storage technologies, blockchain is gaining growing popularity across various industries including healthcare. The scope of application is enormous, and industry leaders have already started leveraging this technology to solve their age-old problems.
At its core, blockchain technology enables participants of a network to share an unchangeable record of transactions between each other. Transaction blocks are linked into a chain called a digital ledger. Generally speaking, blockchain is a form of decentralized (or distributed) ledger technology, DLT. Originally appeared in 2009 to record movements of bitcoin currency, blockchain has since been broadened to exchange any type of secured data. What makes the blockchain technology so unique among other encryption methods is that all blocks are linked in chronological order and marked with hashes. Chronological order means that once the record is done, it cannot be removed or changed without a corresponding record following the initial one. Each hash contains information about the preceding block to ensure that the chain is valid. Besides, the encryption method suggests that any member of the network who has access to the data may see and interact with the records. In other words, blockchain technology does not use centralized data storage to ensure data security, eliminating the need for a middleman.
How Blockchain Is Used in Healthcare
The U.S. healthcare industry has been undergoing profound changes since the Affordable Care Act was signed. The shift from fee-for-service toward value-based care, preventive care, and public health, raised new problems, such as drug supply security, leveraging electronic patient health records, data coordination between payers, providers, and clinicians. Also, the complex system of insurance payments between patients, physicians, and insurance companies places an administrative burden on medical staff and often results in mistakes. How does blockchain help healthcare? Decentralization of the information and high data security level make the technology a well-suited solution addressing most of the problems the industry encounters now.
A growing number of providers use blockchain for healthcare data security that enables multiple providers to view, edit, and exchange patient data. The technology also offers an elegant solution to drug supply chain security compliance, due to the chronological order of uniquely secured records and the ability of the whole network to assess data. Additionally, blockchain technologies are well suited for the process of credentialing, which is time-consuming as it is mostly conducted via phones or emails.
Though research about blockchain and healthcare is limited now, it is hard not to notice all the opportunities the technology opens for the industry. Aside from the coordination of patient data, online scheduling, clinicians templates for quick and easy completion, the technology also enables alternative payment systems, such as digital currency for payments between patients, practitioners, and insurance companies. The current payment process is very complex and places a burden on all parties. It often results in mistakes and confusion such as wrong billings. Chronological blocks of records create an unchangeable audit trail of transactions. Data is distributed and stored across the whole network and can not be edited by any unverified member.
Chronic disease management and public health are other potential fields for healthcare and blockchain applications. Patient records that are visible for all engaged practitioners and educating portals help patients to manage their conditions more effectively in daily life. Accessible electronic storage of patient data also enables the industry’s decision-makers to extract and analyze social and behavioral parameters across the nation (such as the prevalence of certain diseases among low-income patients or patients of certain nationalities). With this available information, more care gaps among various social groups can be revealed. Moreover, this information will help to make up new strategies of how the problems may be addressed outside the hospital doors.
Blockchain and Healthcare
Now, when the question “How blockchain is used in healthcare?” is answered, a new concern comes to mind. Can blockchain be used in healthcare? Technology’s ties to bitcoin and a short history of its application have probably made it suspect to payers. Decentralized data storage and elimination of reliable intermediaries may also keep the technology from being deployed to solve industry problems. However, despite fears and hesitations, some companies have already proved “blockchain healthcare” is becoming a real solution.
“Solve.Care is a global healthcare company that redefines care coordination, improves access to care, empowers consumers with information, and lowers benefit administration costs to help reduce fraud and waste in healthcare around the world”, Dr. D. Hannekom, Chief Medical Officer and Regional President, North America of Solve.Care, said during his interview with the Timestamp. “We have created an ecosystem for patient-centric care based on medical conditions, economic and social needs, and other tailored eligibility criteria. Solve.Care is the first truly global company to leverage decentralized ledger technology (DLT) in the healthcare industry for value-based payments. Solve.Care has received the Most Innovative Blockchain Project Award at the Blockchain Life 2019 Forum and the “Top 3 Innovative Blockchain Solution” and “Top 3 Outstanding Projects” at the 2019 World Blockchain Awards, among other accolades”.
Blockchain frontiers such as Solve.Care, Gem, Chronicled, and others have shown how blockchain is changing the healthcare industry today. Over the next few years, we will likely see more healthcare organizations investing in this technology, improving technology itself, and broadening the scope of its applications.