As associations look to innovate in the healthcare industry, blockchain technology offers a unique opportunity to modernize data storage and improve the lives and safety of the industry and members they serve. With a general understanding of blockchain technology and some simple use-case scenarios, organizations can begin planning for a future where all forms of healthcare data are “on-chain.”
In its simplest form, a blockchain is a database that stores and tracks changes to a specific record. Information, like medical records, are converted into blocks, duplicated across a network of nodes (computers on a specific network), and then get “chained” together to form what is known as a blockchain.
The duplication in the process helps create security since there are so many copies of the information, while the decentralized and public nature of the blockchain allows anyone to access and verify information in real-time. Additionally, cryptography is used when adding new data to the blockchain, which helps reduce the risk of record tampering and ensures transparency when adding new blocks.
While a vast majority of blockchains are public, there is also a possibility of using private or consortium blockchains that would allow organizations to enjoy all the benefits of blockchain technology with a more secure system.
Data-Focused Challenges in Healthcare
Although blockchain application is still in the early stages, the healthcare industry could benefit the most from its application. Streamlining the verification process is critical for an industry that relies heavily on records—in life-or-death situations.
Three types of information that can be stored on-chain include:
- Personal Health Records – After years of annual physicals and doctor visits, chances are you have a robust and detailed medical record. But what happens when you need to change doctors or find yourself in an emergency out of the country? Medical record portability can be a significant concern, and even with the most sophisticated databases, the reach and accessibility of those records are still a concern.
- Staff Credentialing – Most professionals in the healthcare industry have some form of license or credential that ensures the quality of service and expertise when dealing with the public. While verifying these credentials is integral to hiring, fraud is still rampant. Similarly, verifying experience and continuing education is also a challenge before earning the credential.
- Medical Supplies – If the last few years have taught us anything, supply chain issues can disrupt entire industries. However, these disruptions can put patient safety at risk in the healthcare industry. Tracking usage trends and quantities is often left to manual data entry with the manual ordering of supplies.
How Does Blockchain Technology Help?
In each instance, outdated or siloed data practices can create latency and disruption for organizations, professionals and patients. By moving all this data onto a publicly accessible blockchain, it can enable:
- Worldwide access to medical records that are recorded on-chain.
- A verifiable process for recording and validating any credential, license or professional experience.
- Detailed supply tracking, with data capabilities to track usage on the healthcare side and logistics on the supply side.
Of course, blockchain isn’t a foolproof solution. Storing sensitive data on an entirely public blockchain can open the doors to hacks and other malicious attacks. As mentioned above, one solution could be to create private or consortium blockchains specific to the healthcare industry, which can be an ambitious opportunity for associations in the space.
The Future of Healthcare Data
As associations look for opportunities for innovation, it’s important to remember the day-to-day lives of members. From state-wide healthcare systems to your local family doctor, records and data touch every aspect of the industry. While online databases have helped streamline recordkeeping, translating that information into other systems (like when you visit a specialist) or across industries (like when tracking supplies for hospitals) can often form a disconnect.
Blockchain technology offers a uniquely collaborative opportunity to connect and standardize the industry in a vendor-agnostic way. Not only can it help improve the patient experience and outcomes, but also it can create a more secure standard for healthcare practitioners and streamline the infrastructural needs of these facilities as well.
Cowritten by Jose Triana and Amith Nagarajan