The healthcare sector is notorious for its inefficiency. Each patient’s treatment history and health profile presents as a garbled puzzle of information, its pieces cast among various providers and systems. A person who moves from state to state leaves fragments of their overall picture at their former physicians’ offices, specialists’ practices, and hospital systems. Compiling the whole is an exhausting, red-taped process that involves countless calls, emails, requests, and — most inconveniently of all — faxes.
But what if there was another, more user-friendly, way to share patient data? What if healthcare providers and payers could have secure access to an assembled version of every patient’s health history puzzle?
Blockchain technology could be the innovation the healthcare industry needs to retire its clunky fax machines and cut down its red tape for good.
If implemented widely, an integrated, blockchain-based EHR system could significantly cut down on time wasted in information transactions, make data processing more efficient, and cut out the need for expensive third-party data management software entirely. Already, healthcare management leaders such as Accenture, Change Healthcare, Simply Vital Health, and Deloitte Rubix have actively begun looking for scalable, sustainable, and seamless blockchain solutions — and for good reason.
Blockchains solutions would draw together all of the scattered pieces of a patient’s history into one central pool and allow providers to obtain a snapshot of a patient’s medical past and make informed care decisions without the hassle of contacting other, geographically-distant providers. With this degree of easy access, physicians can also take their roles as advisors one step further by becoming care coordinators who both help patients understand the day-to-day implications behind their data and provide insights into any additional care patients may need.
Patients, for their part, benefit from having control over their medical records and the authority to provide access to whomever they deem necessary. Their data remains secure throughout every informational transaction, protected by a digital identity. A blockchain-based system may even overcome barriers posed by international borders; if providers and payers across the globe implement a decentralized and standardized EHR system using blockchain technology, a patient could theoretically receive informed medical care from a provider even during a trip that takes them halfway across the globe from their primary care physician.
All this said, blockchain tech has its flaws and shouldn’t be adopted rashly.
The ready access to patient medical histories that blockchain provides comes at a hefty price: internal security. All providers who treat a given patient have full access to that person’s electronic health record and the sensitive information contained therein. That access is helpful, but also opens the door to significant security flaws; as Protenus co-founder Robert Lord writes in a think piece for Forbes,
“In a single-ledger model […] Everyone has the keys to the kingdom — potential access to every patient record in the country. Unless we can figure out how to dynamically, contextually and individually discern who should and shouldn’t have access to a given patient’s record […] we risk the gradual creation of an existential threat to trustworthy information management in healthcare.”
Lord’s concern isn’t an unfounded one. Simple lapses like leaving a computer logged in or forgetting to close out of a patient’s EHR could lead to a severe failure of security overall. If the healthcare sector does integrate blockchain tech into its day-to-day systems, it will need to tackle the significant holes inherent in current models.
Blockchain-based systems may have growing pains, but the temporary problems we face now doesn’t dim the technology’s long-term potential for positive change. These new solutions offer businesses in the healthcare sector the chance to bolster efficiency and optimize performance in an increasingly competitive market. According to a recent IBM study, a full 56% of executive payer and provider executives intend to implement commercial blockchain solutions by 2020. It isn’t a fad; it isn’t a trend. Blockchain solutions will eventually become the backbone of how we manage information in healthcare — but perhaps not for a few years.