October 01, 2018 – Blockchain is on the rise in healthcare, with nearly half of executives reporting that they plan to develop or adopt blockchain solutions within their organizations, according to a recent PwC Health Research Institute survey. However, implementation challenges persist, including a lack of trust, governance, and expertise.
While blockchain is widely viewed as inherently secure — and could ultimately increase trust among stakeholders — many remain skeptical. Of the 74 global healthcare companies surveyed, 47 percent cited lack of trust as a top concern of blockchain use.
Lack of expertise is also a major barrier. Sixty-one percent of executives said that a lack of appropriate blockchain skills on the team impeded their blockchain projects. Other significant concerns included lack of governance structure (43%), regulatory uncertainty (39%), and interoperability (36%).
These challenges could prevent organizations from leveraging blockchain, which is lauded as having the potential to streamline the exchange of health data and support improvements to care delivery.
“Healthcare organizations run on many complex, data-intensive, slow, manual processes, often performed by intermediaries who handle data and trust mechanisms,” the survey authors state. “Blockchain could simplify and automate these processes, in some cases saving companies weeks of effort, revenue and lost opportunities. Companies that are slow to change may lose out to ones that use the technology to cut costs and increase efficiencies.”
The statement echoes a recent survey from Deloitte, which found that over the past year, leaders have come to see blockchain as a practical, tangible solution instead of a theoretical one. Additionally, Deloitte found that 55 percent of health IT executives strongly believe blockchain will become a disruptive force in healthcare.
The PwC Health Research Institute expects that blockchain will have a significant impact in provider and payer credentialing. The process of confirming a new clinician’s credentials can take months, and delays can lead to significant revenue losses. During these waiting periods, providers earn little to no money for their practice or employer.
The report cites research from the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that these long wait periods can result in 25 percent of newly hired physicians leaving their positions within three years. Blockchain could simplify this process.
“A blockchain-enabled system would permit data relevant to the provider and payer credentialing process to be shared and updated in real time,” the survey states.
“Processes that take weeks or months could be accomplished in days.”
In order to reap the benefits of blockchain, however, organizations must overcome barriers to adoption. To facilitate adoption, executives should first identify a single, clear use case for the technology.
“Companies shouldn’t just have a hammer—blockchain—and be in search of a nail. They should give ample thought to the motivation behind an implementation,” the survey authors observe.
Once executives identify a use case, the PwC Health Research Institute recommends that they leverage that case to find partners, work out technological issues, and solve specific problems.
Likewise, the institute acknowledges that finding trustworthy partners presents a major barrier to implementation, and advises healthcare companies to use existing third parties, such as industry consortia, to build a trusted network.
Organizations should also consider the infrastructure needed to implement and execute blockchain and develop a governance structure to understand how the data will be handled, structured, and shared.
The PwC Health Research Institute contends that blockchain will play an integral role in the future of healthcare. Overcoming barriers to adoption will be critical for organizations seeking to optimize and streamline care delivery.
“Blockchain-based technologies offer substantial opportunities to reinvent how healthcare companies access, collect, distribute, share, leverage, monitor and audit data. Executives should determine how blockchain might affect their operations and those of their partners,” the survey concludes. “In some sectors, disruption of the status quo is already underway, and companies have just a few years before full-scale blockchain implementations begin to appear on the market.”