There’s no argument that health care is changing: from service-based to value-based care, and from a supplier-centric to a patient-centric model. Both regulatory and patient pressures are pushing for better efficiency, better outcomes and simply better care.
These pressures are moving the industry to be more open to the adoption of new technologies, tools and, in many cases, solutions that automate manual processes. These tools are powered by a specialized rocket fuel known as patient data. But in the rush to digitally capture and make the best use of patient data, two primary challenges have arisen. First, how do we break down the information silos that currently exist within our health care system? Secondly, while breaking the silos, how do we protect sensitive patient information as we share it across the health care ecosystem?
A new technology known as blockchain holds promise in addressing both of these challenges. I have worked closely with health care providers and institutions to help them plan their strategic road maps for blockchain initiatives that improve clinical care, patient engagement and staff productivity. In this article, I want to explain how blockchain is currently changing the way we handle patient data, and what medical professionals need to know when they are implementing their own blockchain systems.
What is blockchain?
If you are adding a blockchain system to your health care practice, it’s important to know exactly how it works. Blockchain is a digital system that enables secure data transactions among peers. This is done through a database known as a ledger. Staff will send data through the network only with the approval of other members of the network, and every transaction is monitored and acutely recorded. This allows for extra transparency, increased trust and higher data integrity among your team.
Thanks to its intricate infrastructure, blockchain can shatter silos and unite patient information wherever it exists through effective provider data management. Medical professionals can streamline complexities across the health care spectrum as constituencies that did not previously have trusted relationships with one another will have the ability to collaborate through a safe and tamper-proof database.
If you are implementing blockchain for your health care practice, it’s important to know that this system also enables patients to have complete control over their medical records. This patient-controlled information can be always accessible to the patient without being tied to a specific primary care or hospital-based EHR.
With a patient record that is easily accessible yet secure, compliance and audits also become much easier for providers and health care systems. It also means that regulators can engage in much more effective oversight. Population health can be improved as exponentially more data on trends will become accessible on demand.
What does the road to blockchain look like?
To understand how a blockchain-powered health care universe is possible, HIMSS recently put together a Blockchain Work Group to define a layered approach to how the technology might be adopted. Using such a layered approach, health care organizations can incrementally plan for what is a transformative business process.
Here are some key steps that any health care organization should take in order to implement blockchain:
• Start by identifying key goals and objectives of blockchain, envisioning what the end result will look like and working back from there.
• Determine which parties will be involved — from health care providers and payers to pharmaceutical firms and other partners.
• Take into consideration all privacy and security issues that could be presented, and address them accordingly.
• Spend time researching deployment architectures — whether they may be public or private and the pros and cons of each.
• The key, as with any digital transformation, is don’t try to implement all at once, but take incremental steps.
What’s happening with blockchain right now?
Many businesses across the globe have begun working with blockchain, whether health care providers or software pioneers. Recently, Change Healthcare released the “the first enterprise-scale blockchain network in healthcare.” As Healthcare IT News states, the network is processing over 550 transactions per second.
There is also a large number of other tech-centric businesses and organizations that are currently utilizing blockchain to generate innovative solutions. Even large health care giants such as Humana and Quest Diagnostics have begun their own ventures into the world of blockchain. Finally, my team is currently working with the government of India on health-care-focused blockchain applications.
What challenges remain?
Blockchain is a technology that still has room to mature. Stability, performance and enterprise readiness need refinement before they can meet the standards of many health care organizations. There is also the issue of the typically cautious nature of the heavily regulated health care industry as a whole. Even with the high level of justifiable enthusiasm, blockchain requires more than just a simple willingness to adopt new technology. A strategic business model change will be required from providers and payers alike.
Adopting and using the robust platform of blockchain to full effect will not happen overnight, but its bold promise continues to shine brightly in the not-too-distant horizon.