Blockchain is the technological advancement that took the world by storm in data storage and distribution, especially in the financial sector. Its immense success across industries has left the healthcare industry reading with questions as well. People are calling blockchain the answer to interoperability. However, if the confusion looms, blockchain will take twice as long to make a healthcare difference.
Let’s start by unpacking blockchain, one question at a time, and then see what it means for healthcare.
How does blockchain work?
Blockchain is a peer-to-peer distributed ledger technology and has three main components:
1.Distributed network: The decentralized P2P architecture comprises nodes that represent network participants, and every node stores a copy of the blockchain, authorized to verify and certify digital transactions on the network.
2.Shared ledger: Digital transactions within the network are recorded by its members into a shared ledger. The members run algorithms and verify transaction proposals, and then once a majority of members approve the proposal, it is added to the shared ledger.
3.Transparent transaction: Any digital asset or information stored in a blockchain could qualify as a transparent transaction. Each transaction is marked by a cryptographic hash that adds the transactions in a linear, chronological order.
Imagine blockchain in healthcare
Critical healthcare information is scattered across multiple systems, and sometimes, it isn’t available when needed the most. The current healthcare infrastructure has been labeled inadequate to handle information exchange and requires certain tweaks. According to the most recent Gartner Hype Cycle, Blockchain has transcended the “innovation trigger” and has reached the “peak of inflated expectations,” making it relevant for healthcare and data integration.
Why should blockchain be integrated into healthcare?
A major factor that makes the use of blockchain revolutionary in healthcare is the lack of a central administrator. Why? Because a database is still a tangible thing- consisting of bits and bytes. The contents of the database could be corrupted if they are stored in a particular computer’s physical memory.
By using blockchain, you eliminate the need for a central administrator, and all of your data and transactions are protected by clever cryptography. Since healthcare deals with confidential patient information and requires quick access to records, blockchain enables these medical records to be shared securely. Blockchain, at a glance, offers access security, scalability, and data privacy.
Blockchain implementation in healthcare will be an incremental process rather than a panacea to address all data management challenges.
5 ways blockchain can improve healthcare:
1) Continually update patients’ records
The blockchain can assist providers with compiling longitudinal patient records- including episodes, disease registries, lab results, treatments- facilitating the discovery of better ways to deliver care.
2) Master patient indexes
Data we manage in healthcare can get mismatched or duplicated. Additionally, varying EHRs have different schemas for every single field- coming up with different methods of entering and manipulating even the most basic data sets. Blockchain stores the entire database in a hashed format, not just the primary keys themselves. The user would search for the address – there can be multiple addresses and thousands of keys, but they will all return to single patient identification.
3) Acknowledgment of claims
Since blockchain operates on a validation-based exchange, the claim can be automatically verified where the network agrees on the way the contract is implemented. Additionally, there would be fewer errors or frauds since there is no central authority.
4) Logistics and supply chain management
Blockchain-based contracts can assist healthcare organizations in monitoring supply-demand cycles throughout their entire life cycle – how are contracts being executed, if they are successful, and if there are any delays in their delivery.
A dependable EHR interoperability and data storage process can be implemented with sophisticated APIs. Combined with a blockchain network shared with authorized providers in a secure and standardized way, this would enable eliminating the cost and burden of data reconciliation.
In addition to these, blockchain can transform revenue cycle management, drug supply management, clinical trials and fraud prevention.
The potential of blockchain in healthcare is mostly dependent on how willing healthcare organizations are to develop the required technical infrastructure. Blockchain is a costly technology, there are concerns regarding its integration with the existing technology, and they’re certain is speculation regarding its cultural adoption. However, for sure, blockchain has taken healthcare by storm over the past year, and there has been a significant investment in blockchain. Its broad potential is little surprise. Blockchain is poised to transform the digital landscape in the future. And maybe someday, it’ll do the same for big data.