Next Big Thing?: Blockchain may have a place in healthcare

Next Big Thing?

Blockchain may have a place in healthcare

While there is no universal definition, blockchain is basically the unchangeable recording and transmission of data that is passed between colleagues. It is “immutable,” meaning that it can only be written once and is then “read-only.” The information contained in a blockchain digital system cannot be altered or edited but stays pristine no matter how often or widely it is shared, according to Reenita Das, writing in Forbes. It is the opposite of Wikipedia.

As Das says, “Despite all the hype, for many people (across different industries) the blockchain concept still seems difficult to grasp, which makes it one of the most misunderstood technologies of 2017. This confusion around blockchain can be attributed both to its contentious origin and equally to the absence of any standard definition of blockchain technology.”

The basic nature of blockchain, the way it eliminates the need for an intermediary and allows transactions between trusted partners, its immutability, is seen in applications like Bitcoin, but Das notes that its potential is much greater. Blockchain already has a constituency, the Hyperledger Foundation, a new inter-industry advocacy group that furthers the growth of blockchain.

For medical care, research and administration, a blockchain platform can store together all a patient’s data, generated by all doctors and hospitals, encrypt it so that only those with permission can access it and even time stamp it.

It can receive data directly from monitors that a patient wears or carries and also from stationary sensors at home, a hospital or clinical trial setting. The data are used for the patient’s own care or as clinical trial results and are shared by all pre-approved doctors and researchers. The trial outcomes cannot be altered.

Fraud accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all medical costs, an estimated $30 million from Medicare alone. Blockchain technology removes any clearinghouse or middleman, automates the claims consideration process and speeds it up. Claims processing through blockchain may be the wave of the future, since the giant bank Capital One is working with Gem Health, a blockchain software maker, to develop a health insurance payment program.

Blockchain can provide “chain of custody” documentation for drugs, tracing the movement of a given lot from manufacturer to retail customer, lessening the risk of counterfeit drugs and assuring confidence in the legitimacy of drug transactions. Since counterfeits cost the pharma industry some $200 billion per year, there is great interest in these potential benefits and an Advanced Digital Ledger Technology is being developed by iSolve LLC.

Das concludes, “The concept of blockchain technology and systems is undoubtedly disruptive, but it will not act as a magic bullet to solve emerging business problems in the fast-changing and highly interconnected digital health ecosystem. Rather, it will be an evolutionary journey for blockchain-based healthcare systems or applications, where trust and governance within a blockchain network or consortium will be the critical success factors for implementation.”