The Healthcare Hub

Potential for Blockchain to Transform Healthcare

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Blockchain is a digital decentralized public database that can be shared among its users. It creates an unalterable digitally signed record of each transaction, called a block. For every new transaction, a new block is created which links with the preceding block, thereby resulting in a chain of blocks; this is how blockchain derives its name. Since the blocks cannot be altered or deleted, it is an accurate repository of every transaction made in a blockchain.

Blockchain was initially developed in 2008 as the framework for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. However, its use has since expanded beyond cryptocurrency to other economic sectors and is disrupting established business processes and methods. Adoption of blockchain by the healthcare industry could be transformative and confer a lot of benefits on its participants some of which are discussed below.

Medical records

One of the prevailing issues with healthcare in the U.S. is the fragmentation of patient records. With disparate technology between healthcare systems (and sometimes within) a digital transfer of patient records is difficult if not impossible. As such, when a patient visits multiple facilities in different health systems, it becomes difficult to obtain a complete medical history. This can result in treatment gaps or duplicate treatments which ultimately increases medical costs.

The adoption of blockchain by healthcare industries has the potential to solve the problem of data fragmentation. Healthcare providers would have the ability to access the entire record of any patient since it would all be in the same database — negating the need to reconcile patient's information across the various healthcare systems and preserving the integrity of information.

Data security

Healthcare facilities have suffered significant financial loses as the target of cyber attacks. Patient care has been impacted as a result of affected facilities being unable to access patient medical histories or needing to resort to pen and paper for documentation while the ransomware attack is in progress.

The decentralized nature of blockchain means that there is no single point of failure, thereby reducing the risk of data compromise for healthcare facilities. If one node in the blockchain becomes compromised, data can still be retrieved from other nodes within the blockchain. In addition, since each block is cryptographically encrypted, there is virtually no risk of data tampering — essentially guaranteeing the integrity of any data in the blockchain

Supply chain management

One of the major cost drivers in the U.S. healthcare system is supplies. The healthcare supply chain is highly complex and professionals continuously pursue solutions to reduce the cost burden to the healthcare system. Automation along with accurate and complete data is critical to drive down costs. Gaining additional insight from data to support forecasting models is an area where blockchain shows promise.

Blockchain could provide an effective way to manage supplies within a healthcare system. With blockchain, supplies can be fully tracked from origin to destination. With every transaction stored in the blockchain, detailed reports can be generated from this data to track utilization of the various supplies and these reports can be used to guide the ordering of supplies. Other potential use cases pertinent to supply chain and business process include pharmacy and device track and trace — GHX has been involved in a pharma-focused study team and pilot group led by the Center for Supply Chain Studies — and payment management.

Clinical trials

Participants typically have to meet specific criteria to be considered for various clinical trials. It is sometimes a time consuming and expensive process to find individuals meeting the required prerequisites.

Blockchain could simplify and speed up the process of finding eligible participants for clinical trials. With complete patient information in a single database, researchers can input desired parameters and filter out only those patients meeting the parameters

Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize healthcare in the U.S. as we know it and transform it for the better. With this technology still in its infancy stages, however, there are several obstacles still to be addressed before it can be fully adopted. Issues like blockchain standards, data control, and interfaces with EHRs have to be resolved. There are endless possibilities as to how blockchain can be used to optimize healthcare delivery in the United States.

GHX is actively pursuing blockchain technology to solve unmet needs across healthcare. Where product tracking, master data management, contracting and order processing are concerned, blockchain is believed to be a significant driver in greater efficiency.