The modern healthcare system is necessarily a set of dependent and independent institutions. Because of its mission-critical nature, the system’s evolution involves a lot of ad-hoc changes. While blockchain technology was initially developed to support the exchange of bitcoin and crypto-currencies, it’s decentralized, distributed ledger of digital events also offers many appealing possibilities to the healthcare industry. A study from IBM reveals that around 16 percent of healthcare executives are aiming to implement a commercial solution this year, the count of which is expected to rise to 56 percent by the end of 2020.
The blockchain revolution has made its way to the healthcare industry, and it’s only the beginning of what’s possible. The overall vision for blockchain to disrupt healthcare in the future would be to solve many issues that plague the industry today, to create a shared database of health information that doctors and providers could access no matter what electronic medical system they used. Higher security and privacy, less admin time for doctors, so there’s more time to spend on patient care, and even better sharing of research results to facilitate new drug and treatment therapies for the disease. Health device manufacturers, services, and organizations currently store all the health data they handle in their centralized servers. This burdens them with the responsibility to secure all that information.Not all of them fulfill that responsibility appropriately.
Centralized data stores give cybercriminals attractive targets to attack. By breaking into a single system, they’ll find access to the sensitive information of millions of users. In parallel to the centralized problem, the current health tech landscape suffers from fragmentation of data. The health data of each user is scattered across the servers of dozens of services, which means no user has a consolidated picture of their data.
The healthcare industry’s problem isn’t that it’s centralized, but instead that it’s centralized in the wrong way. Everything revolves around services, companies, and applications, which is the reason why there are so much data redundancy and confusion, and why there are stores of data that can prove valuable to malicious actors. Although there are some incredibly exciting ways blockchains can enhance healthcare operations, it won’t be a cure-all for the industry today, but it would indeed be a step in the right direction. The architecture for the technology has components that facilitate faster, seamless interoperability between systems.
Other advantages include scalability according to demand, disaster recovery, data encryption and cryptography technologies and built-in fault tolerance – the perfect ingredients for indelible healthcare IT experience. The application of healthcare blockchain is still in early stages of development, but is envisioned to solve the following challenges:
The goal of HIPAA is to keep personally identifiable information (PII) and personal health information (PHI) private and secure. HIPAA limits how and under what circumstances this data may be used without patient authorization. A blockchain solution could assist with HIPAA compliance by segregating and encrypting patient identity, PII and PHI into discrete units, accessible at any time by those who have authorization to do so.
In addition, blockchains are an ideal platform for regulatory compliance because they establish a trusted audit trail that can be verified in real-time. Blockchains don’t merely track compliance; they also streamline enforcement and discourage fraudulent behavior from the beginning.
Medical Data Management
Because blockchain can simplify the exchange of data across authorized parties, it can be applied in healthcare to enhance the management of electronic health records (EHRs). Current health information exchanges (HIEs) are hampered by a number of technology issues, including the need for an intermediary trust network, data interoperability issues and inconsistent rules and permissions.
These issues prevent the safe transfer and sharing of data. However, it is now possible for healthcare organizations to build blockchains based on data pulled from existing databases, creating a complete data picture and single source of truth.
This paves the way for an HIE that is patient-mediated. Patients would be the owners of their own data, accessible to each individual via the blockchain private key mechanisms. Patients could share this data with whomever they choose within their healthcare team. This would give patients and the caregivers of their choice a longitudinal history of their health.
While complex billing procedures can lead to unintentional inaccuracies, intentional medical billing fraud is a serious issue. In July 2017, a Medicare fraud task force charged more than 400 people, including dozens of doctors, with defrauding the government of $1.3 billion. Current processes are incapable of detecting all instances of fraud. Blockchain’s security and auditability make it an ideal choice for claims adjudication and payments processing, as well.
Blockchain can assist with clinical trial data. The COMPare Trials Project found that out of 67 trials they examined, only nine were correctly reported; 354 outcomes were not reported, and 357 new outcomes were silently added. This casts doubt upon the accuracy of medical information derived from clinical trials and the resulting care that patients receive.To create transparency and trust, those conducting clinical trials could use blockchain to record and time-stamp each event in the trial’s protocol. This would prevent selective reporting, ensuring that reporting of trials is correct and not “spun” to achieve a desired outcome.
Utilization of this technology in this manner will engage millions of individuals, health care entities, medical researchers, health care provides to share vast amounts of data released to every aspect of life with guaranteed privacy protection and security. This event could lead to precision medicine and advancement of medical research to pave the way for improved health and timely prevention of diseases.
Blockchain is still a nascent technology and we have yet to see the extents and limits of its possibilities. But it clearly shows promise to be the infrastructure needed to protect and leverage the reams of health data that we’re generating.