With bitcoin fever taking the world by storm, many are looking into the value of the underlying technology associated with cryptocurrency: blockchain. What benefit does the future of blockchain healthcare have to areas such as patient records, medical data, medical billing, and other industry elements?
While many people have heard quite a bit about bitcoin and cryptocurrency, the underlying technology that made bitcoin possible has remained unfamiliar to most. So what is blockchain, and how can it go beyond finance and bitcoin to impact other industries, such as healthcare?
What is Blockchain?
In 2008, a white paper published under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto outlined the first blockchain database and its possible application for digital currency. The following year, blockchain technology was implemented as the foundational platform behind the launch of bitcoin.
The formal definition of blockchain technology, according to Harvard Business Review, is "an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way."
Each block in the “chain” is a coded piece of data that is not only permanent, time stamped, and inalterable, it is also verified and encrypted by multiple different computers, or nodes, on a network before being added to the complete chain. Blocks are interconnected through the inclusion of existing data from previous blocks onto each new one added. It lends strength to the entire chain because altering any one block also requires altering each preceding block.
According to CareSync Chief Technology Officer Mano Kalathil, “Blockchain can be used in scenarios where we want to transact in such a manner that a tamper-proof audit trail can be recorded without a centralized authority.”
Having data that is so carefully vetted and managed across an entire decentralized network enhances the security of the entire chain, which is one of the reasons that blockchain technology is being hailed as an innovation with potential to drastically impact the future of many different industries, not just finance.
How Would Blockchain Healthcare Work?
Blockchain healthcare seems to be one of the top potential answers to those interested in healthcare innovation and disruption.
A report from Deloitte identified healthcare as having the “most aggressive deployment plans” for blockchain technology of any other industry, with 35% of respondents expressing plans to implement blockchain within the next year.
At its simplest, blockchain technology, when viewed as an ongoing record of transactions and data, sounds like a perfect fit for healthcare.
Founder of The Chamber of Digital Commerce, Perianne Boring, said, “In the healthcare industry, we are seeing a huge influx of interest and a lot of major problems blockchain is addressing, from patient privacy and electronic health records to tracking pharmaceuticals and doctor shopping. Blockchain technology is also extremely powerful when it comes to victims of identity theft. Blockchain provides for an unprecedented level of privacy and security that can be leveraged to confirm your digital identity as we do more and more of our daily activities online."
Patient Medical Records, Health Data, and Blockchain Healthcare
Blockchain healthcare could allow for improved management of the vast amounts of data created, transferred, and managed within the industry by various parties -- from healthcare providers to payers to patients.
In fact, this is often the most commonly considered application of blockchain in healthcare. Communication and transfer of patient medical records is often difficult between disparate providers or healthcare systems, which negatively impacts quality of patient care and experience. Not to mention, there are large amounts of health data collected through consumer technologies, such as wearables, mobile health apps, and fitness trackers, that has not yet been able to be effectively incorporated into patient care on a broad scale by the healthcare industry.
Blockchain healthcare technology could facilitate secure access to patient medical records and health data by patients and their various healthcare providers. It could even allow researchers to study trends and information from patients who opt in.
Current Examples of Blockchain Healthcare Uses
A number of innovators have appeared on the blockchain healthcare scene with proposals for how to impact the industry with blockchain.
Universal Health Coin: This is an attempt to use blockchain healthcare technology to eliminate third-party entities that manage payment for services between the patient and provider to reduce healthcare costs associated with unnecessary administrative burden and inflation that results from lack of a free healthcare market. UHC describes itself as an “anonymous, token-based shared health cost network” rather than health insurance.
Each member of the UHC network pays a voluntary monthly fee and in exchange receives a digital Universal Health Coin, validated through blockchain healthcare technology, to use as currency for direct payment of services when they receive treatment at a provider’s location.
Accenture, Microsoft: Per this company’s report, “one-sixth of the world’s population cannot participate in cultural, political, economic and social life for lack of ID.” Accenture has used blockchain healthcare technology and Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to create a digital ID prototype called ID2020. Individuals using the technology can control their own information to manage release and distribution to external parties.
“People without a documented identity suffer by being excluded from modern society,” David Treat, a managing director in Accenture’s global blockchain business, said in a statement. “Our prototype is personal, private and portable, empowering individuals to access and share appropriate information when convenient and without the worry of using or losing paper documentation.”
The MediLedger Project: A collaborative effort between multiple companies, helmed by LinkLab LLC and Chronicled, Inc. with involvement from industry players such as Pfizer, puts blockchain healthcare technology to use toward securing and improving the pharmaceutical supply chain industry. The prototype is in response to the Drug Supply Chain Security Act in 2013 as an attempt at interoperability to contain counterfeits within the next 5 years.
As stated on the project’s website, the focus is “to deliver an interoperable system leveraging blockchain technology that enables a trusted consortium of drug manufacturers, distributors, and dispensers to:
- Reduce cost and effort of regulatory adherence while improving security and improving public safety.
- Stop the counterfeit / adulterated product from entering the US supply chain.
- Improve overall business operations of the pharmaceutical supply chain.”
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