Blockchain has the opportunity to both secure healthcare information and open it up to healthcare professionals.
Issues with the nation’s healthcare system seem to be making quite a few headlines as of late. Though opinions vary greatly regarding just which one takes precedence, the lion’s share of complaints essentially boil down to a failure to communicate.
Blockchain, a digital ledger originally developed for Bitcoin, may have the potential to loosen some of the current kinks.
As the moniker indicates, blockchain consists of blocks of digital information, each one connected to the next in order of occurrence. When related exchanges take place, whether involving money or information, a new block is formed and linked to the previous transaction.
These blocks can’t be altered, deleted, or rearranged, making them a significant leap forward in information security and solidity.
On the other end of the spectrum, information in blockchain form can easily be shared as long as those attempting a peek are granted access and have a connected server. Rather than being confined to a single database, the system is able to transcend various networks.
From there, those authorized may view and even add to the exchanges already recorded. The result is a concrete record of transactions with a much simpler allocation process as compared to current methods widely in use.
Expanding the Potential of Blockchain
Although blockchain has been described as the next big thing in the healthcare field, it’s currently only in its toddler stages in this industry. Being designed specifically for Bitcoin, the technology is primarily used by members of the financial sector at present.
Banks, payment collectors or allocators, and exchange companies have already begun to reap its advantages.
Certain insurance companies are beginning to implement the blockchain system. This could be considered its strongest link to the healthcare industry. While medical billing and insurance payments are significant focal points where blockchain is concerned, the potential applications expand well beyond the financial aspect.
Diego Espinosa, a current major player in the healthcare blockchain field, founded a company called Healthcoin. Diabetes prevention lies at the heart of this Portland startup’s overall purpose. This particular blockchain, set to officially launch later this year, will keep track of patient records with incentive tokens being awarded as their health improves.
Those using Healthcoin’s blockchain platform will be able to take their tokens and past records with them if they switch insurance providers or employers.
Aside from giving patients a little extra motivation and encouragement, Espinosa recently told Healthcare Finance News, “What we’re really trying to do here is to allow the value that gets generated by prevention to be transparent, and to be captured by all the people who are involved in it. We’ve become a beacon; here’s a better way to run an incentive program […] we can bend the cost curve.”
Blockchain’s Strongest Links
One of blockchain’s leading strengths currently being touted by members of the healthcare industry is security. Only those who’ve been granted access to a specific blockchain are able to gain entry, and only those authorized to add information may do so.
Everyone in the loop must validate any new data before it’s officially logged. Anyone affected can choose to be notified when attempts are made to add information. At the same time, patients, insurers, or healthcare providers may request alerts when the chain is shared with another entity.
Transparency is a major asset for blockchain. Patients have the capacity to pull up their records and see which exchanges have taken place, while physicians are able to better cross-reference patients’ interactions with other medical personnel and facilities.
Insurers may be less apt to question or deny payouts since information can’t be altered. Even pharmacies stand to gain from the new chain of command because they could have more readily available access to patients’ current medication lists and which prescriptions are covered by their insurance.
How Far Does Blockchain Run?At present, only a handful of those in the medical community have adopted blockchain due to a widespread lack of understanding of the technology and its full potential. Steps are being taken to bridge the gap, and more are set to jump on board by the end of the year. Insurers like Aetna and Humana have already acknowledged the advantages of such a system.
“The visionaries adopting blockchain today are using the technology to reinvent many fundamental business practices,” said IBM Blockchain General Manager, Marie Wieck. “Working with clients to develop open source and permissioned blockchain solutions for the enterprise, we are seeing firsthand how the technology is revolutionizing the way organizations recognize value and do business with one another.”
Despite still being in its early stages, blockchain holds a great deal of promise for the healthcare industry. Virtually everyone involved in the medical process, including patients, physicians, specialists, hospitals, pharmacies, research labs, and insurance providers to name a few, could benefit from implementing such a system.
By cutting out the need for a variety of middlemen in various sectors, this technology also has the potential to lower costs across the board.
Though many continue to ride the fence on the matter, a growing number of facilities and providers have already decided to make the switch to blockchain, which is expected to be in full swing by the end of the year.