Three Questions: How Blockchain Has Begun to Revolutionize Health Care
Blockchain isn’t just for the finance set anymore. The technology, which is basically a decentralized digital ledger secured by cryptographic security, has the potential to shape and transform every industry imaginable. The healthcare market is just starting to see blockchain’s potential with organizations looking at applications for securing patient records, tracking pharmaceuticals, sharing research data across disparate networks, and facilitating payments. Below, David Suter, co-founder of Proof.Work, a provider of blockchain-based collaboration and data sharing tools, explains why blockchain will become more important in 2018 and what healthcare executives need to know.
Why is blockchain so top-of-mind right now, and what makes it so appealing?
Because it revolutionizes medical and health interoperability, security, and provenance.
Blockchain is, simply put, just a transactional ledger that sits on not just one computer but is distributed across a de-centralized network of connected computers. But compared to traditional electronic ledgers, blockchain utilizes encrypted technologies for added security. This means that companies and individuals don’t have to be afraid to share or transmit data, most of which is currently locked away in silos.
Healthcare organizations using a blockchain network can improve patient and provider access to digital health and medical data. That data currently typically exists in fragmented or disconnected systems, and a blockchain network can solve that fragmented or disconnected data issue. When this happens, an added benefit is that patients can play a much more active role in their health and coordinated care. And because data distributed via the blockchain is secure and made accessible on a permission-only basis, it provides transparency to who has access at any given time.
From the patient’s perspective, blockchain provides the potential for greater access and control of his or her medical records, making doctor-patient interactions more fulfilling, impactful, and beneficial to all. Plus — and just as important — if that patient wants a second option, the medical data is portable, so the patient could provide access to their data to other doctors in the patient’s circle of care. This would certainly cut back on having to repeat patient history forms in a new doctor’s office, and the new office can initiate care with a complete and consistent patient history and medical record, improving outcomes and productivity.
How does blockchain help those on the business side of medicine?
Now that medical records are being digitized, we are closer to a world where data can be analyzed by machine-learning experts for everything from finding cures, to disease prediction, to treatment advances.
With blockchain, all parties in a de-centralized network can securely get access to the same data (so long as they have been given access), creating a mutual benefit between patient, provider, researcher, and payer. Data in a blockchain cannot be altered or tampered with, providing authentication and comfort that the data is where it is supposed to be and is what it says it is.
This makes it a great way to keep track of things. For those in the medical field, this means payments can be facilitated without worry about hacking or loss, and they now have an excellent way to store and keep track of patient data because it can be user-specific — the user says who sees his or her data — and they get a record of who had access to their data and when it was opened.
Where do you see blockchain making the biggest difference in the healthcare world?
As healthcare organizations transition to electronic medical records, there’s more accessible data, but almost everything lives in silos. We need to understand what to do with it and where it adds most value. We believe the value in blockchain is that it makes data longitudinal and global while keeping it secure. We call this value-based data distribution — a spinoff of value-based care. It’s all about unifying population health and, rather than fighting for each other’s business, working together. Everyone wins, shares the data, learns from experiences, and creates a global patient-first ecosystem.