Innovation and Disruption

4 ways healthcare organizations can use blockchain

May 31, 2019 9:38 pm

While the adoption of Blockchain technology in the healthcare industry has already begun, its transformative power is yet to be realized.

Blockchain is a shared, immutable record of all transactions built from linked transaction blocks and stored in a digital ledger. It places the patient at the center of the healthcare ecosystem, by ensuring secure storage of healthcare data and promoting interoperability. 

Fifteen percent of healthcare organizations are already using blockchain technology and 35% percent plan to do so in the near future, according to the statistics. By 2025, the adoption percentage is projected to rise to 55%.

Blockchain technology in healthcare is a necessary step forward. Recent statistics show that 89% of healthcare organizations experienced a data breach in the last two years. Sixty-nine percent of people in the healthcare industry believe that they are at greater risk for data breach than other industries. Blockchain provides a secure framework for storing vital healthcare data. 

In addition, it’s wide array of applications will eventually empower patients to be in charge of their health records, ensuring secure data access only by authorized individuals. The interoperability blockchain offers also can be used by artificial intelligence in healthcare to further medical research and give rise to precision medicine.

Here are four ways in which healthcare organizations can use blockchain at an initial level.

Secure healthcare IT systems. Most current healthcare data is centralized at various levels, be it healthcare facility, corporation or within government registries. The point of failure lies at the location where the database is being maintained, making it susceptible to attacks by hackers. Blockchain eliminates the need for a centralized authority. The data transaction records are instead stored and distributed across the various network participants.

All interactions as well as updates to the existing database are trackable because blockchain records them and produces an audit trail. Corruption of data by external forces is prevented by the absence of a centralized version of data. On the internal front, all changes made to the data are recorded so any attempts to change or corrupt the data can be traced back to the individual making the change. This ensures medical record integrity and secure healthcare systems.

Ease of payments through cryptocurrencies. Use of cryptocurrencies for health services not only offers the advantage of digital payments, it also reduces the chances of fraud within healthcare organizations and results in lower costs for workflow optimization. Billing of services and procedures that haven’t been performed is a common scam in the healthcare industry. By having blockchain technology in place and accepting the payments through cryptocurrency, the chances of fraud decreases substantially because transactions can be potentially backtracked. 

Cryptocurrencies also can be used to share payments in many scenarios. For example, leveraging patient data for use in clinical trials in exchange for cryptocurrency micropayments can be used as an incentive for the patients to participate anonymously. 

Incorporation of blockchain technology in clinical trials would enhance data transparency and make the results free from bias. It allows participating patients to be anonymous while sharing the relevant health data in a secure manner. 

Supply chain management. Blockchain enables tracking sources and supply chain across multiple partners and prevents infiltration by distributors of substandard medications and supplies. In addition, blockchain technology allows for drug traceability that can stamp out the problem of dissemination of counterfeit drugs. 

The pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers attach unique identifiers to the products which are noted by the ledger within the blockchain. Every transaction across the supply chain gets a timestamp attached to it and is traceable as well. This makes tracking every product easy and ensures that the information within the block cannot be corrupted or altered by external forces. Within the supply chain, every entity — manufacturers, distributors and retailers —has varying authorization levels to make changes. This allows for transparency while making the management of the supply chain more efficient.

Storage of patient health information. In today’s healthcare environment, patients’ access to their health information is limited. Healthcare organizations act as gatekeepers for accessing data, which isn’t an optimal arrangement in emergency scenarios where immediate access to critical health information can make the difference in life and death situations. Using a blockchain for storing patient data makes it easier to share vital information such as prescriptions and medical records between doctors, patients, hospitals and pharmacies. 

With medical devices and wearables becoming commonplace, application of blockchain technology in healthcare resolves a number of problems. Individual patient health information blocks could be stored on the blockchain. The control of data moves into patients’ hands with encrypted keys giving secure access to the health information. For example, medical bills along with the insurance claims data can be safely stored on blockchain. The data can be retrieved and decrypted using the private keys and accessed by the patients as and when the need arises.

Blockchain is also an effective tool to combat data duplicity in patient health records. The entire data set is hashed to a ledger not just the primary key. When the user looks for any information, even if there might be multiple records, they will all yield to single patient identification.

The initial costs associated with setting up blockchain in healthcare are high, but long-term benefits for healthcare organizations and patients far overweigh the costs. By employing the interoperability blockchain offers and using it in combination with big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence in healthcare, the benefits of securely storing and sharing data are evident. However, there also is the potential to find solutions for many health problems plaguing people today. The advanced analytics techniques can process large cohorts of population health data, pave the way for delivery of precision medicine and herald a progressive era in the field of healthcare, one that is fueled by technology. 

See related articleThe Truth About Blockchain and Its Application to Health Care


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