December 9, 2016

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Redefining Healthcare with Blockchain Technology

Blockchain technology will facilitate secure data collaboration and transactions across the healthcare ecosystem, fostering more accurate diagnoses and effective care at reduced costs, while enabling improved revenue cycle management.

Can blockchain–the disruptive technology that made quick inroads into the financial services sector–be the panacea for the healthcare industry’s data woes? Yes, say data gurus and early adopters of the technology. While the volume of patient data continues to grow every year, healthcare institutions are left grappling with the need for effective data interoperability and security. They need robust solutions to cross the data chasm, for what is at stake is not just profitability and cost concerns, but the lives of patients.

Currently, most patient-related data is stored in centralized hubs such as electronic health record (EHR) systems, data warehouses, or repositories owned by health information exchanges (HIE). The resulting data silos and lack of interoperability hampers data collaboration across the healthcare ecosystem. This would significantly impact healthcare organizations’ ability to deliver accurate diagnoses, effective treatments, and enhanced care at optimal costs. But thanks to blockchain, you can surmount this challenge, driving greater interoperability and secure sharing of data across platforms.

Decoding the technology

Blockchain is an encryption-based, distributed and decentralized public ledger, backed by peer-to-peer (P2P) protocols. The technology that underpins the digital currency bitcoin is characterized by decentralization of control, high availability, and strong data integrity through end-to-end encryption.

What makes it attractive is that it enables all the authorized entities in a network– which could well be hospitals, payers and patients–to access verified information using a private or universal key or code. It also creates an accurate trail of transactions, which in the context of healthcare, could pertain to medical histories and bill payments. With blockchain, you can thus build an open, secure ecosystem, where all stakeholders can make quick and smart, data-driven decisions. It is easy to see how the technology can potentially help simplify business and clinical data transactions, right from claims adjudication to clinical events monitoring. 

Taking a leaf out of others’ books

The healthcare industry can take inspiration from other industries that are harnessing the power of blockchain. Here are a few examples:

  • Banks expedite back-office operations and trading settlements by using blockchain as a digitized and tamper-proof ledger
  • Administrators use blockchain as a secure medium for casting, tracking and counting votes
  • IT companies build a safe and decentralized network of Internet of Things (IoT) devices with blockchain as its backbone
  • The music industry uses blockchain for direct payments to artists, and smart contracts for hassle-free licensing

While the healthcare sector has been slow to adopt blockchain, it is now increasingly exploring the advantages of the technology that promises to further catalyze digitization.And analyst estimates augur well for blockchain enthusiasts. Going by marketsandmarkets predictions, the blockchain technology market could grow from $210.2 million in 2016 to $ 2,312.5 million by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 61.5%.

Blockchain in action

You can adopt two approaches to building a robust network for aggregating and sharing data.

  • Build a private blockchain system for a few set of trusted entities.
  • Create a public blockchain with a proof or verification code. Anyone who possesses this proof can verify the integrity and history of any data or business process. 

Revolutionizing healthcare

Here is a look at some of the emerging applications and use cases of blockchain in healthcare, and how they can transform the very contours of the industry:

Population health management: By adopting blockchain-based solutions, you can create innovative models for sharing medical records, including comprehensive information about doctor visits, patients’ health patterns, and data from IoT devices. These models, backed by effective global level authentication and verification of data-at-rest, can boost population health management. They can ease hospitals’ burden of maintaining patients’ medical data and records, while placing data in the hands of the individual.

Patient generated data: Portable, patient generated health data (PGHD) from wearables, smartphone apps and sensors are growing at a rapid clip. Alongside, the threat of malicious attacks on these devices is also on the rise. So instead of storing PGHD locally on these devices, you can enable patients to encrypt and store them safely in a data repository called a data lake in a health blockchain.  The blockchain will include a complete indexed history of the PGHD, and also send notifications to patients when new health data is added to the data lake.

Clinical studies: You can extract valuable data from a large population, not limited to just volunteers, thus tapping into more accurate and larger sample sizes for more effective clinical trials. At the same time, blockchain helps you ensure proper encryption and anonymity of patient identities, in line with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

Payments and payer contracts: A single blockchain network is all one needs to bring together insurance companies, hospitals, and patients for hassle-free and well-integrated payments. In one stroke, you can reduce redundancies across the industry, leading to significant savings in cost and efforts. Furthermore, blockchain-based ‘smart contracts’ can trigger automatic notifications to patients and providers, in the event of a potential threat or when a new block or entity is added to the chain.

Conclusion

Blockchain can be an effective medium for transforming the healthcare industry that is ripe for innovation. It enables you to reduce the cost of audits and compliance, lower compliance risk by ensuring greater transparency in claims activities, create tamper-proof audit trails, and improve patient data security. All of these help you deliver superior customer experiences, while opening the doors to greater profitability.