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June 22, 2017 Guest articles No Comments

Will Blockchain Survive Healthcare?
By Daniel Kivatinos

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Blockchain technology is here and thriving, with bitcoin as its primary use case. I expect it will be applied to many industries in the coming years; but the question is, will it work for healthcare? Generally, healthcare has lagged in adopting newer technologies. We have seen the medical industry struggle to move fully off paper, slowly digitizing medical records over the last several decades. The digitalization of healthcare is still happening. Ten years from now, everyone will have easy access to their medical information from around the world via their smartphone. But will blockchain survive the healthcare hype and end up the game-changer some are predicting it will become?

Blockchain Basics

Blockchain’s initial HIT use case began in cryptocurrency along with bitcoin. At the simplest level, blockchain is a distributed ledger. The power of a distributed ledger is that there are many copies, and it creates a new system of checks and balances. As we’ve seen from the headlines, the concept of an encrypted distributed ledger via blockchain is now spreading to other areas like healthcare.

Today, organizations typically have one central administrator that holds the key(s) to the kingdom, one canonical source of truth, one ledger, and one log of transactions. The ledger isn’t spread across a network of different parties. The concept of having multiple digital ledgers from different parties offers a number of security benefits:

  • It would be very hard to simultaneously hack all digital ledgers.
  • Errors in one ledger can be checked against other ledgers from other parties.

Healthcare Use Cases

Here are several use cases that illustrate how blockchain could work in the healthcare industry:

Use Case 1: If a physician specialist needs access to a patient’s health history, blockchain would duplicate the medical record and log transactions. One transaction would happen at a physician encounter where a checkup might happen, maybe a radiology image is taken and a prescription refill occurs. After the encounter, a trusted party would validate the transaction with an access key. The blockchain app would timestamp the verified block and add it to the chain of older blocks in sequential order, hence adding a block to the chain. Then the transaction would be distributed to other ledgers, giving other parties copies of the medical record. This would be a great way to keep up to date on a patient’s health if, for example, two providers from different organizations needed to keep track of a patient.

Use Case 2: Blockchain technology could also be used for medical billing, logging with blocks on a chain and showing all payments from claims from multiple payers. With the United States GDP Health expenditure growing from 13.1 percent in 1995 to 17.1 percent in 2014, according to worldbank.org, having a bit more logging around medical transactions might help identify billing discrepancies and potentially reduce costs.

Use Case 3: Organizations are also thinking about how they can apply blockchain internally to boost their infrastructure while having multiple parties that, under lock and key, have copies of the ledger. This has the potential to stop hospital ransomware attackers in their tracks.

In summary, healthcare organizations of all sizes are contemplating the ways in which blockchain may benefit their business models. But as we’ve seen with healthcare, its adoption will occur only after its obstacles have been overcome and its value-adds fully realized. Time – and lots of it – will be the barometer of blockchain’s survival in healthcare.

Daniel Kivatinos is co-founder and COO of Drchrono in Mountain View, CA.


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