By NINA TALLEY, MedSpeaks
When it comes to blockchain in healthcare, Electronic Health Records (EHRs) dominate the conversation. The need to secure and move this highly sensitive data has long been a bottleneck in healthcare. Healthtech futurists are looking hungrily at burgeoning blockchain and related technologies as a part of the solution to this time-consuming problem. But are we truly there yet?
"Dreams of interoperability and self-sovereign medical records are nothing new," said John Bass, CEO of Hashed Health, a healthcare innovation firm focused on developing meaningful utilization of blockchain technologies and networks. "It's understandable that the big, disruptive blockchain use cases have captured the world's imagination. The blockchain certainly provides an exciting new framework for these solutions. But we have to figure out how to get from here to there."
There is likely an amazing blockchain solution for health records in our future. The blockchain can only be added to - it is like a series of append only notes - which is much like what health records are. No one should be able to be able to change the past of our health records, only to add to them, which is very much the pattern of the blockchain, which is designed to store a series of records in successive blocks, never overwriting the past, just adding more facts to the list of successive facts represented by the specific chain.
But EHRs are messy, legally complicated, and more importantly, critically important to a patient's life. There's also the question of who owns that data, with many patients uninterested in managing their own healthcare data. If you're looking to strike while the metaphorical blockchain iron is hot, why would you choose a point of entry with a barrier that's so high? Especially with a technology as versatile as blockchain that can solve so many existing pain points in healthcare.
So, if now isn't the time for blockchain to make a splash by tackling EHRs, how can it gain a foothold in an industry as slow to adapt as healthcare?
"What we need in 2018 and 2019 are (blockchain) solutions that demonstrate value," said Bass, "solutions that solve real problems for real businesses in today's world. What we will find is that solving these problems sets the foundation for disruption and proves that we can use the blockchain to solve old problems in new ways."
"Blockchain has a lot of potential (in medical records) but it's already good at some things that are way more 'disrupt-able' than EHR," said Colin Forward, CEO of MobileCare and Blockchain Analyst. "The obvious one is payments, but blockchains can help operationalize all sorts of data for providers, insurers, and the patients themselves. Blockchains can support supply chain management within the hospital, or serve as a hub for data from wearables and other consumer health services. There are also plenty of use cases that are secondary to healthcare delivery, such as continuing medical education and clinician credentialing, which are ripe for blockchain."
We're beginning to see a few companies seize on these practical applications, such as Hashed Health's new Professional Credentials Exchange. They are taking on the issue of physician credentialing, which although not as flashy as EHRs, is just as critical. The government mandated credentialing process often takes several months to complete, largely impeded by a lack of reliable, verified information available to those doing the work tracking down the credentials. This hits hospital systems where it hurts, in their bottom line. Delays in physician credentialing can cost hospitals an estimated $7,500 per day.
By leveraging blockchain, the goal is that organizations ultimately reduce the effort, cost, redundancy, and complexity of practitioner identity and credentialing. Blockchain enabled exchange frameworks provide counterparties with an efficient and secure way to supply and acquire verified credentials, even when utilizing the rules and requirements of specific organizational systems.
These and many other practical use cases are standing by, waiting to be seized upon. The onus is on us, the technologists and the futurists, to change the direction of the conversation. We must remind the industry, and ourselves, that if you don't train on smaller mountains before you attempt to summit Everest, you will certainly die on your way there.
Nina Talley is the Associate Director for MedSpeaks whose mission is to unite problem owners with problem solvers in order to foster collaborative relationships and develop world-class solutions for providers and patients in our local communities.
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