Today’s healthcare industry is plagued by outdated record keeping systems that are difficult to manage and protect. Blockchain technology is expected to dramatically improve this system. As we discussed in previous posts, blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger of transactions that records data in a way that prevents hacking and altering of data by duplicating transactions and dispersing them to “nodes” across the network. Healthcare organizations will benefit from blockchain in three major ways, according to the legal site JD Supra:
Improved patient data management and sharing: The healthcare industry’s current record keeping system is siloed and out of date, which often results in mismanaged data and security issues. As such, healthcare organizations often end up wasting time, money, and resources. In contrast, blockchain is a single system that streamlines medical data for doctors, healthcare organizations, and patients in a secure record encoded with a private key, giving patients control over their data. In addition to enhanced security, blockchain reduces documentation errors and miscommunication between stakeholders.
A more efficient payment process: The healthcare industry typically issues payments through micropayments via centralized third-party services. However, this process is usually “slow, vulnerable to hacking, results in high fees over time, and is not transparent,” the authors write. Unlike standard payment processes, blockchain uses cryptocurrency token-based payments, which eliminates reliance on these third-party services. Payments are transferred directly to the healthcare provider’s digital wallet which “provides a secure, transparent, fast, and traceable method of payment.”
Enhanced cyber security: Medical record data breaches are not only expensive—they can lead to reputational damage and potential legal issues. However, blockchain can provide standard security protocols and end-to-end encryption while preventing breaches while data is in transit. The technology can also be used to confirm software downloads are legitimate. “In addition,” write the authors, “decentralizing sensitive data makes it harder, if not impossible, for hackers to penetrate data storage systems.”
However, the authors also note a few challenges healthcare organizations need to be prepared for when adopting this technology:
- Because blockchain can lack permissions and medical data is extremely private, healthcare organizations “need to consider which type of blockchain is best for your operations.”
- Implementing blockchain into your current digital infrastructure will be a complex task. As such, medical providers will need to hire IT professionals who are specifically trained in the technology.
- Medical providers in the United States will need to ensure their blockchain is compliant with “applicable provisions” of the Cures Act Final Rule, which aims to “stop information-blocking practices” that “impede the secure exchange and use of electronic health information by patients, doctors, and other healthcare organizations.”
- Storing patient data on a public ledger may pose a potential conflict with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
- While blockchain gives patients greater control over their own medical data, it also presents potential problems if, for example, an unconscious patient is unable to grant access. Protocols will likely need to be created to address these issues. “Encryption schemes and smart contracts provide potential options, but more research is needed to fully determine methods to ensure HIPAA compliance.”
- The sheer volume of private healthcare data presents potential data storage issues for the blockchain, including slowdowns and loss of functionality. “Determining how to deal with large data storage without negatively impacting the blockchain network is an area that also needs further evaluation.”
While blockchain implementation presents some challenges for the medical industry, its integration poses huge benefits. Organizations need to carefully weigh these challenges and take steps to prepare for them.
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Bauknight, Philip, Dennison, Patrick, Maring, Lorie, Troutman, Kevin A. 3 Ways That Blockchain Can Help the Healthcare Industry Focus More on Patient Care and Less on Administrative Headaches. JD Supra.