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How Could Healthcare Organizations Benefit from Blockchain?

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With the dawn if this decade, “Blockchain” first appeared in a polarizing whitepapaer about a new “peer-to-peer electronic cash system”. Back then no one could foresee the future of such a misunderstood IT jargon.

Fast-forward to 2015, the National Interoperability Roadmap published by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) published the cornerstones for the healthcare industry of the future and puts Blockchain as the up-and-coming key player.

The ONC praises some of the advances made by the industry, naming precision medicine, e-Health and the burgeoning adoption of electronic health records (HER) and big data analytics. However, there is a lot of progress to be made especially in the upcoming decade.

To get to the future of healthcare, the roadmap lists some 16 areas of focus for the industry, including identity, authorization and access, data formats and transmission, and improved workflows. A closer look to the list reveals an underlying need for an open technology infrastructure that enforces data security and enables and supports sharing and connectivity: it’s Blockchain, the immutable, decentralized ledger.

Although Blockchain is still in its infancy, its potential to disrupt many industries value chains is widely recognized. For healthcare organizations, sitting on the sidelines while the paradigm shift is taking shape means missing out on the wave of early adoption that is gaining huge momentum as we write these lines.

In a previous article, we examined some of the most promising uses cases of Blockchain technology in healthcare. This article takes a wider approach to focus on the potential benefits from a healthcare organizations stand-point.

Promising Blockchain use cases in Healthcare

We already took a close look to the plentiful promising Blockchain use cases in healthcare (Article: Blockchain & The Healthcare Industry) which include:

  • Countering counterfeit drugs

  • Enhancing the patients experience through EHR

  • Protecting data integrity in the healthcare sphere

  • Enabling value-based care and payment initiatives

  • Improving clinical research & trials using smart contracts

    That being said, it’s important to understand where adoption stands. The leading opinion states that identifying a genuine ‘killer app’ in healthcare at this stage is difficult. Adoption will be gradual and will exponentially grow once a clear application immerge anywhere.

 

Figure 1 – Blockchain adoption status in Healthcare. Source: IBM - Healthcare rallies for blockchains: Keeping patients at the center.

 

How would Blockchain benefit Healthcare?

The following is a list of key benefits healthcare organizations would reap from using Blockchain technology.

Improve Patient Care through Data Interoperability

One of the biggest challenges that healthcare organizations face is the huge amount of data available. Chunks of data are piling up and getter bigger everyday. Add to this more data from easily acquired wearables (like sleep trackers, activity and heart monitors) and you’ll end up with mountains of data flowing from too many sources with little to do to store / process it coherently.

This is where Blockchain comes into play. Its distributed ledger technology could provide a single and immutable source of truth regarding patient records, payment and healthcare providers information. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to aggregating clinical data across multiple healthcare organizations, insurance organization and financial institutions.

Hence, Blockchain may provide an ultimate database of patients’ medical situation and history, allowing healthcare providers to take the right health decisions on a hunch and ultimately improving medical outcomes. It’s worth adding that given the right access, such data can be downloaded safely by a simple click, and blockchain provides an immutable proof that this data is genuine and can never be altered (more on this point later).

Reduced Costs Through Process Automation

Blockchain was first developed as the underlying technology that enables virtual money (or cryptocurrency) and provides a mean of “peer-to-peer” transfer of value. This means no processing fees, nor third party involvement, and no paperwork needed to move “money” from one party to another (hence the p2p term).

Through this capability, Blockchain promises to curb cross-industry payment processing overhead by eliminating process nodes that don’t add value, reducing costly reconciliations and automating transactions through the use of smart-contracts.

Using Blockchain, simple payments can be fully automated through collected data from the patients (for instance, the patient received medical care and signed to leave the clinic) or by means of IoT (or the Internet of connected Things). Using a smart-contract that self executes when the patient signs that he received needed care, Blockchain would insure transactions are handled safely and quickly while providing immutable proof for financial and insurance institutions.

Fraud & False Claims

Fraud and false claims have been a huge burden for healthcare organizations. In fact, recoveries since 1986, when Congress substantially strengthened the civil False Claims Act, totaled more than $56 billion until 2017 according to the Office of Public Affairs .

To prevent medical fraud and false claims/billing, Blockchain could bring the ultimate solution by automatically identifying duplicate claims or prescriptions and by providing a transparent view of transactions across stakeholders.

Blockchain is highly praised for its decentralized authority leaving no weak-points when it comes to verifying duplicate claims or processing redundant processing costs. Blockchain also provides real-time tracking of transactions through a decentralized system that prevents double spending giving both patients and healthcare organization a highly efficient platform for payment and billing.

As soon as regulators approve of it, it’s only a matter of time before seeing it as a go-to solution in these regards.

Enhanced Data Privacy & Integrity

One of the most stringent regulations in healthcare concerns the confidentiality of patient health records. Only parties with the right consent from the patient can consult medical files and history: it’s ground zero. It’s also a process that involves paperwork, signatures, emailing of sensitive records, and other means of communication that puts the data privacy and integrity at high risk.

A great answer comes from Blockchain technology’s encryption capabilities. Data privacy is enforced through modern public/private key encryption techniques. Furthermore data integrity is guaranteed through Blockchain’s temper-proof immutability.

As far as data access is concerned, Blockchain adopts a decentralized architecture with no single admin authority, which means that multiple computers connected to the network will verify access rights remotely before granting access to sensitive data.

Other Pictures: Pixabay

Tags:Blockchain, Healthcare

 

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