by adgrooms on October 17, 2019

Blockchain has had a lot of hype in the last several years, most notably as the technology behind the cryptocurrency bitcoin. While cryptocurrency has its supporters and detractors, blockchain is recognized as a secure transactional system that could have uses beyond finance. Healthcare is now exploring the possibilities of applying blockchain. The excitement over the potential of blockchain's role in healthcare has led to many new startups working on new ideas using the technology. Investors are putting money behind the efforts too. So what can blockchain be used for in healthcare?

Healthcare institutions can use blockchain for provider directories and credentialing, an important administrative task that still requires a lot of manual effort to maintain. Larger institutions may have to keep track of hundreds of providers across many clinical facilities. Payers are also contacting the providers to regularly verify and update information. These redundancies waste time and cost billions every year. With blockchain, the directory would become a single place where providers and institutions can keep track and update credentialing and be able to make sure information is accurate. Payers that need to verify information can be given access to the directory, eliminating the need to contact providers and institutions directly.

Another area of healthcare that can benefit from blockchain is keeping track of the pharmaceutical supply chain. The opioid crisis, as we have seen, is a result of the lack of monitoring and oversight from the manufacturing to the distribution of a drug. The unchecked manufacturing and distribution have exposed the challenge of ensuring accountability within the system. By using blockchain in this case, stakeholders in every part of the supply chain could manage drugs from a single source. From manufacture, distribution, prescription to the patient, the whole journey of a drug could be transparently seen, eliminating much of the abuse while keeping needed drugs readily available.

Adding blockchain to clinical research could help to improve accuracy and ensure the integrity of the results. Information that is added in a blockchain keeps track of who made the addition and when. Changes to past entries are documented the same way, making it difficult to alter results without knowing who made the change when. Researchers working on the same problem in different locations can more easily collaborate by accessing and contributing information to a single source. This can also be beneficial to knowing who specifically makes the contributions to a body of research.

Consent management could benefit from blockchain technology. It would provide a secure record of consent from patients that give permission to access their health data. The record of consent could be distributed across multiple parties for validation before being added to the permanent record. Once permanent it can't be deleted or modified, but it can be revoked. Any attempts at falsified consent would be eliminated because the blockchain could be audited at any time.

Healthcare insurance fraud is a problem that costs $68 billion per year in false treatment claims. The abuse not only costs insurance companies, but it is passed on to consumers as higher premiums and institutions as requests for documentation. Blockchain can help combat this by keeping a record that can't be tampered with and is easily shared between the patient, provider, and payer. This would help eliminate double charging and making claims on procedures that were never performed. This would make stolen protected health information less valuable to hackers reducing the incentive for theft.

One of the most exciting possibilities for blockchain in healthcare is Electronic Health Records. It could be the key to patients gaining full ownership of all of their health information. Blockchain could enable patients to take information typically stored at each institution that provides them care and combine it all in one record. The patient would then allow access to providers who could see their whole health story that otherwise could be fragmented across multiple providers. This could be especially helpful in the case of an emergency where immediate access to patient information can improve their outcome. Patients could also add genetic data and information from wearable health monitors to their record. All of this combined health information from birth onward offers the patient more control over their health.

Blockchain has great potential in healthcare applications given it is a secure way to store and share data. There are even more possibilities than we have mentioned. Blood bank management just came to mind. What other areas could benefit? In upcoming posts, we will take a deeper look at how blockchain works.