Blockchain in healthcare: From possible to probable

The tech’s appeal lies in its digital ledger of transactions and healthcare is on the precipice of adoption to grow networks of secure data.
By Wendy Almeida
03:04 PM
Blockchain in healthcare

Blockchain is the digital ledger of transactions that anyone on the network can see — and no one on the network can alter that information. Tracing information back to its original source and every detail in-between is the key to the technology. Healthcare is interested in this idea to change the way we think about data interoperability and security. There are many more applications for the idea that aren’t just about EHRs and money but about patient engagement as well. Read this primer and the 3 basic principles to understand the tech if you are still trying to figure out blockchain and its value to grow networks of secure data in healthcare.

Here are some of the latest developments happening related to blockchain right now.

Early adopters

There have been some early fans who are investing and building partnerships to develop the tech. Change Healthcare, the company formed in March by combining McKesson Technology Solutions and Change Healthcare Holdings, joined the Hashed Health consortium in July to develop ideas around blockchain and distributed ledger technologies. In September, Change Healthcare announced its network will adopt the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 for blockchain application design and development. The company's plan is to enable customers to focus on analytics, revenue cycle and new services without having to write code or build additional interfaces.

Big ideas for blockchain

There are some people with ideas in development that span a wide range of possibilities. Blockchain’s potential for EHRs can enable more seamless and secure sharing of health data within the patient's discretion and control. It can offer a longitudinal view of a patient's health history that incorporates information drawn from hospital stays, outpatient visits, wearable device data and more. 

There is a lot of promise in blockchain in terms of the revenue cycle and simplifying processes. The potential as an inexpensive (once implemented) solution to claims adjudication and billing management would minimize improper billing and reimbursements across the payer industry.

The field of research could greatly benefit from the ledger of data on patients, particularly in the fields of precision or personalized medicine, and could drive unprecedented collaboration between participants and researchers. The first case of implementation of the potential in research is at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. The university is using Bitmark, a Taiwan-based company, that created a blockchain-like system for digital property ownership to help the school use the emerging technology to ensure participants know exactly how and where their data is being used. 

Blockchain's decentralized technology offers stronger privacy protections than existing platforms since its multiple servers are less vulnerable to attack than a single access point and this could aid in developing better private messaging among doctors and patients.

Hyperledger Fabric's modular architecture is one example of tools in development.

Tools for development of blockchain

Tech companies are working to develop software to utilize blockchain for a variety of healthcare workflows. Here are the companies working on solutions right now.

In June, Accenture and Microsoft created a prototype based on blockchain tech to create a digital identity for 1.1 billion people around the world who don’t have a formal ID.

In July, many considered the launch of the Hyperledger platform – a collaborative effort led by the Linux Foundation to advance blockchain technologies in healthcare and elsewhere – to be a major milestone. The modular architecture allows components to be plug-and-play to leverages its container technology to host "chaincode" logic in an open framework sandbox for developers.

In August, Microsoft announced Coco, an open source framework it said will enable users to build enterprise-class blockchain networks to further healthcare's ability to customize for their needs.

Pitfalls of blockchain

Despite blockchain’s promise, many are waiting to see how federal regulations unfold. The lack of technical standards is causing some regulatory uncertainty. Yet, according to a recent Black Book report, blockchain has become so popular that 88 percent of payers are considering deploying or currently implementing blockchain.

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