Healthcare’s transition from manual paper to electronic data has revolutionized the ways in which healthcare providers care for their patients. The days of hunting down a patient’s paper chart or attempting to interpret illegible documentation are over. Although Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and health IT solutions have successfully consolidated and organized patient information, rapid and widespread implementation resulted in unprecedented flaws. Today, the lack of data sharing between disparate health IT systems and vulnerability to security risk, has limited healthcare providers to effectively communicate and provide the highest quality of care.
Enter Blockchain technology: an electronic ledger originally devised for the digital currency Bitcoin that enables direct communication between two parties by removing third party institutions. Blockchain technology has increasingly been adopted by a number of industries and many are confident this new tech can significantly alleviate many healthcare deficiencies. However, this recent development has begged the question, what is blockchain technology?
According to Don and Alex Tapscott, authors of Blockchain Revolution, blockchain technology
“is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value” (Rosic 1).
So how exactly can this technology benefit the healthcare industry?
Firstly, blockchain tech has attracted attention because of its efficacy in the prevention of data tampering. It essentially serves as a distributed tamperproof database in which two parties can digitally sign and timestamp transactions, providing cryptographically irrefutable evidence of both the provenance and existence of a record at any given time (Ichikawa, Kashiyama, Ueno 1). As fraud and theft continue to plague the healthcare industry, the ability to streamline the electronic sharing of medical records securely, protect sensitive patient data from hackers, and give patients more control over their information all in accordance with HIPAA regulations can be a major breakthrough (Orcutt 1).
Secondly, blockchain tech has the potential to substantially reduce costs associated with fraud and healthcare’s burdensome reimbursement processes. Corey Tadaro, chief product officer at Hashed Health, claims
“blockchain can enable a smart payment system to match the distributed care teams that will take responsibility for episode – and disease-centered payment models” (Siwicki 1).
Corey continues “a blockchain-based system can provide realistic solutions for minimizing medical billing-related fraud; this is a highly relevant use-case given the amount of fraudulent activities around improper medical billing, claims adjudication, and reimbursements across the payer industry” (Siwicki 1). Blockchain can efficiently verify and authorize information as well as contractual processes, virtually eliminating the back-and-forth between multiple parties: a cost effective and efficient solution.
While others have written about the power of blockchain to revolutionize health IT and payment models, more ambitious experts including Brian Till, Alexander Peters, Salim Afshar, and John Meara believe the benefits are limitless. In their text, From Blockchain Technology to Health Equity: can Cryptocurrencies Finance Universal Health Coverage, the authors outline the capacity for blockchain technology to revolutionize global health. According to the authors,
“the emergence of blockchain has created a new era in global finance in which a global-currency-for-all can promote universal access to financing and in turn, represents a significant paradigm shift towards creating global health and financial equity through access to financing” (Till, Peters, Afshar, Meara 2).
As discussed above, blockchain removes third party financial institutions, limits fraud, and prevents counterfeiting compared to current financing mechanisms, giving financial credibility to anyone who has funds. Thus, blockchain has the capacity to dissolve barriers to world markets by enabling everyone – from the world’s poorest to its wealthiest individuals and institutions – to accumulate wealth in a secure transnational currency (Till, Peters, Afshar, Meara 2).
Ultimately, blockchain tech can enable the world’s poorest individuals to access a corrupt free and unilateral system of wealth. Additionally, institutions like the IMF, World Bank, US Agency for International Development and Department for International Development can adopt blockchain tech and revolutionize traditional grants and funding opportunities for global health. Although still in the early stages, blockchain tech has the potential to revolutionize and advance healthcare practices throughout the United States and across the globe.