Along with big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT); blockchain has also quickly climbed the ladder of the most talked-about technologies.
The healthcare industry professionals view blockchain technology as an answer to the endless challenges faced by them today.
Let us first understand why blockchain is gaining popularity.
“Blockchain technology is creating a buzz.”
The blockchain is an open source and peer-to-peer distributed transaction (or ledger) technology which can be accessed publicly or by a limited group of people.
A few features (listed below) of blockchain makes it unique (and useful for healthcare industry).
Now, that we know the significant basics of blockchain technology, let’s discuss the 5 ways in which it can benefit healthcare industry.
Blockchain Healthcare Cycle
Blockchain technology can be used to maintain electronic health records thereby reducing the administrative burden on the providers. It can also be used to incorporate data from other sources like prescriptions, IoT devices and doctors visit. This, along with global authentication system can propel population health management across the industry.
Considering the health professionals across the world can be given access to certain medical data, it will boost medical tourism and also help in taking quick actions during emergency cases.
Patient's health data is sensitive, and it is always a bonus if technology can limit access to it. Blockchain technology has the ability to give the patient control over the access to the records. If private blockchain is used, it can help patients monitor the accuracy of edits like new diagnosis or limit which providers are allowed to access what type of health data. For example, a patient can be comfortable sharing the blood group but not HIV status.
We discussed how IoT devices are taking over the healthcare industry, here. They generate and store patient data using wearable devices, smartphone apps or sensors. However, securing the collected data is a challenge. The attacks on such devices are on a constant rise and Lily Hay at Wired correctly titled an article - Medical devices are the next security nightmare.
First, blockchain technology can help overcome this challenge to a certain extent. Instead of storing this data locally on any device, you can store it using a data lake in health blockchain.
Secondly, the blockchain creates indelible records, hold the entire patient history and sends notification to patients when new health data is added to the data lake or an entity requests access to any piece of information. This enables patients to have greater control over how the data is shared.
Thirdly, blockchain can also encrypt the data and keep the anonymity of patients which is in line with the regulatory requirements of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).
Fourthly, open ledger system with built-in authentication can help reduce theft and frauds.
Considering the relevant entities have access to valuable health data (and patterns) for a large population, they can carry out more effective clinical trials.
Blockchain technology can bring together the important stakeholders in the healthcare industry - patients, hospitals and the payers like insurance companies. This will help them expedite claims and boost hassle free and well-integrated payment systems. It will reduce redundancies, costs as well as the efforts.
One of the major challenges faced by the industry today is the endless time taken to settle claims. While it takes anywhere between 1-2 weeks, it can be reduced to 14 minutes using real-time processing.
Smart contracts can play a revolutising role here. It eliminates the need of intermediaries for executing or implementing contracts. The smart contract will contain the logic behind the provider-payer terms and will pave way for real time processing.
Providers will not need to call insurance companies to validate the eligibility of the patient.
If the transaction between patients, hospitals, pharmacist, drug manufacturer etc are tracked and recorded, it can be used to improve health care.
This can address critical issues in the industry including counterfeit drugs, errors and inaccuracies in drug prescriptions etc which are caused due to lack of detailed medical information. Let us understand using a few examples.
If the patient is already taking a few medicines and is prescribed identical medicines, blockchain can flag this duplication and prevent the patient from doubling the dose. Similarly, the patient can restrict the addition of drugs in the records if he has discontinued its use based on the second opinion.
This will help pharmacies, providers, patients and other relevant health professional keep a check on care plans, errors, inaccuracies, addictions and also open discussions about potential side effects that are discouraging use.
Healthcare research data
Blockchain has the potential to alleviate the major challenges of the industry. It is a robust technology that can drive healthcare industry performance, improve quality of care and lower the cost of delivery.