Blockchain Will Unblock A Data Problem In Healthcare

A data problem in healthcare can be solved with the help of blockchain. Here's how it works and why it can be so helpful.

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October 23, 2019
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The caregiving environment is becoming increasingly digital. Resultantly, a growing number of healthcare IT leaders are exploring whether blockchain is a viable solution for working with sensitive medical data. Researchers are making considerable headway in leveraging relatively new blockchain technology for healthcare applications, and insurers are enthusiastically jumping on board. Companies such as Humana and Optum Health are testing applications for blockchain technology. As an example, healthcare insurance providers are leveraging blockchain to improve the accuracy of their provider directories – a long-standing and expensive pain point in the industry.

Big Plans for Blockchain

Blockchain technology promises to deliver improved efficiency and increased transparency. Accordingly, 39% of responding executives plan to invest at least $5 million in blockchain research through 2019, according to a Deloitte survey. The centralized nature of blockchain technology can significantly improve data security. The anonymous nature of the blockchain ledger is also beneficial for enterprises. Moreover, the network problem-solving aspects of blockchain technology is replacing the human trust feature required to handle many forms of sensitive information. Furthermore, stakeholders can use blockchain for smart contracts, saving the time and money it traditionally costs to sign and validate agreements. There are, however, drawbacks to blockchain technology. For instance, researchers are grappling with how to deploy it on a large scale. Also, despite the encryption characteristics of blockchain, metadata and statistical analysis could enable malicious actors to reconstruct sensitive information. Nevertheless, blockchain promises to improve the quality of information. The innovation increases efficiency and makes it impossible to tamper with data.

Using Blockchain to Make Information More Accessible for Consumers

Already, industries have applied blockchain for purposes beyond its original use as a currency. For instance, enterprises are looking for ways to use the technology to manage digital assets, data and network permission privileges. In the healthcare field, insurance providers are joining forces to research how to leverage blockchain to manage provider directories. The technology can lower the cost of keeping provider information up-to-date by distributing the workload required to do so. With multiple people sharing the same information using blockchain, analysts expect the quality of data to rise and operational costs to fall. In part, they expect these outcomes because there’s less contact between information stakeholders. Already, researchers have found that they can locate inaccurate information faster using blockchain. The technology also protects sensitive information in the event of a cyberattack. Now that healthcare insurance companies have figured out how to make the technology work, they must learn how to make it work at scale. Transitioning the technology from a lab environment to a live national directory is the first challenge for insurers. If successful, blockchain may solve one of the top problems that contribute to higher medical costs and wasteful spending – the effective management of information.

Blockchain Implementation Is Not Without Risk

Blockchain is a remarkable technology. However, as with all things, there’s the human factor. Not everyone uses technology for the betterment of society. Instead, some choose to use innovations for personal gain – at the cost of others. Resultantly, 86% of recently surveyed consumers say they want to know when companies collect their healthcare data. Most consumers don’t mind if ethical businesses use their information, but they want to know about it. Before healthcare organizations can deploy blockchain effectively, they must put safeguards in place to ensure that patients know when organizations monetize their information. Organizations must also inform patients about their privacy rights, how they use patient data and any risks regarding information privacy. If blockchain deployment increases in the healthcare field, data will no longer reside in centralized databases. It will flow in real-time as needed across a range of organizations. The successful deployment of blockchain may put many intermediaries out of business. If this happens, companies that specialize in managing healthcare information must reinvent themselves to provide a valuable service in a blockchain-powered world. Like the many workers who face the threat of displacement by automation, healthcare-related data management firms will have to upskill. In the healthcare field, blockchain is not a pie-in-the-sky techno-fantasy. It’s moved beyond the hype and grown into a technology that can solve some of the most problematic issues in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Currently, blockchain is a curious novelty to many executives. However, once researchers have cracked the issue of scale, blockchain may very well become the standard used to secure sensitive data across a range of industries.