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December 23, 2019

Modern Healthcare: Will Blockchain Save the Healthcare System?

By Alex Tate

nsurers are among the first to use blockchain technology in healthcare, and they are only going to expand its use.

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Blockchain, in non-technical words, is a network of blocks embedded together. It is a form of decentralized and distributed ledger that can store various kinds of information. Instead of using a central entity to maintain the system, blockchain uses a peer-to-peer network, and everyone on the network gets to enjoy a full copy of all information on that blockchain. Owing to the intricate mechanisms of data storage, data breaching becomes virtually impossible in a blockchain. Even if one 'node' of the network gets affected, the other components in the blockchain remain unscathed, eventually assisting the affected node in its data recovery process. This characteristic makes blockchain a highly secure means of data storage.

Even though blockchain is still not fully understood by scientists, health IT experts have shown great faith in its capabilities. Here are some ways in which blockchain can save the healthcare system:

Protection from cyberattacksSeamless interoperability all EHRs will be interconnectedDramatic cost savingsImproved revenue managementGreater transparency and accuracy in managing patient dataFaster diagnosisBetter resource managementRewards and incentives for patients and providersNew avenues for researchers particularly genetic engineers

Protection from cyberattacks

The most distinct feature of blockchain is its ability to withstand breaching and tampering. Any information that is added to the blockchain becomes embedded in all decentralized 'nodes' of the network and becomes a permanent feature of the blockchain. This complex symmetry makes it extremely hard for potential hackers to break into the PHI (Protected Health Information).

Data breaching is a major problem in US healthcare. According to HIPAA Journal, the average cost of a healthcare data breach is $15 million. In 2018, fines worth $28.7 million were collected from healthcare providers who had failed to meet the requisite protocols of data safety. By completely integrating blockchain technology to American healthcare, not only would the data be safe from different vulnerabilities but also there would be no need to impose any hefty fines on the practices.

Seamless interoperability all EHRs will be interconnected

There is a consensus among the healthcare stakeholders that clinical information should be made easier to share and view. For instance, if a provider is using one EHR vendor, and he refers the patient to a doctor with an altogether different vendor, interoperability allows them to mutually share their clinical data seamlessly. To show their support for this cause, many EHR vendors have already signed National Voluntary Pledge. However, there are plenty of grey areas in the concept of data sharing, and cogent efforts are needed to turn this concept into a practical reality.

Blockchain presents a holistic opportunity to cater to the need for the safe and free transfer of PHI. Blockchain technology has an idiosyncrasy that all its nodes (or computers) have a copy of the same data throughout the entire network. Alongside, any information being wedged into the blockchain gets shared with all participants of the blockchain, virtually in real-time. Another unique feature of blockchain is its unprecedented resistance to data breaching. All these features make blockchain an excellent platform for secure and seamless exchange of medical records among different healthcare stakeholders.

Dramatic Cost Savings

The US government is quite adamant about reducing its costs on healthcare. The reason is pretty straightforward: It spends a generous $3.65 trillion on its healthcare, which makes almost 21%of the total GDP spending. In 2009, the Obama administration announced the ARRA, and in 2010, PPACA was enacted to manage the resources spent on healthcare.

By effectively bringing blockchain to healthcare, massive savings can take place. It is estimated that the complete adoption of healthcare can save the healthcare industry anywhere between $100-$150 billion by 2025. It can also reduce carbon footprints by minimizing the need to keep paper records. Automation due to blockchain would also reduce the need for intermediaries, which are deployed to do various redundant tasks.

Improved revenue management

Blockchain makes it possible to make billing more natural and faster. Owing to its secure network, blockchain will minimize the likelihood of financial discrepancies. Since payers have access to real-time clinical information, the need for submitting claims manually would be nullified. Instead, the insurance companies can reimburse the providers as soon as the treatment takes place. Using its sophisticated back-end algorithms, blockchain would also countercheck any discrepancies or anomalies in payments made by the respective payers. This automated system would also make billing effectively free since no intermediaries would be involved to manually scrub and submit claims.

Greater transparency and accuracy in managing patient data

A studyperformed by John Hopkins revealed that medical errors were the third largest cause of human deaths in the US, accounting for over 250,000 fatalities per annum. Some studies have claimed that this number could be much higher as well.

Blockchain would significantly reduce the likelihood of misdiagnosis and erroneous data entry, effectively eliminating casualties due to medical errors. Furthermore, every entity in the healthcare ecosystem would be able to view clinical information. Patients can themselves own their entire medical history and see for themselves if they have been diagnosed correctly.

Faster diagnosis

Since complete patient information would be available for everyone in a blockchain, providers and AI-based EMR software would find it easy to detect a disease in its nascent stage. Faster clinical diagnosis saves time, resources, and money alongside relieving the patient of the undue agony.

Better resource management

Blockchain has the ability to record all forms of information. From drug ordering to drug administration, from patient diagnosis to progress notes, everything is stored on this highly complex network. Since everyone within the blockchain has open access to this knowledge base, they can make decisions to improve their resource allocation. For instance, if the providers in a certain county are persistently identifying cases of common flu, the pharmacists would ensure that they have the requisite drugs in stock.

Rewards and incentives for healthcare stakeholders

For a successful blockchain, it is pertinent that all healthcare stakeholders, such as patients, providers, labs, pharmacies, healthcare registries, hospitals and insurance companies, should participate and offer their share of information. For doing so, these entities can be rewarded. Special incentives can be given to patients who are taking good care of their medication and providers that have the least readmission rates. This will promote a healthy culture, where the sole focus of everyone would be to improve the health of the general public.

New avenues for researchers particularly genetic engineers

With complete genomic and medical information in one place, researchers would have a complete snapshot of the medical landscape. This will allow them to identify loopholes in the current protocols of patient care and safety. As for the genetic engineers, they would have access to complete family history, helping them to understand how genes function and what impact can it have on the upcoming generations. Blockchain will also help the genetic engineers in identifying patterns of genetic disorders and make recommendations to curb it.

Conclusion

Blockchain technology is a form of horizontal innovation, that can have far-reaching consequences for the entire humanity. With its reliable, auditable, and resilient mechanism, blockchain makes it easy for different computers to connect and share information without the fear of being breached. Amidst data breaching, medical errors, slow reimbursements, and growing frustrations within the healthcare system, blockchain presents a rejuvenated opportunity to transform the US healthcare for the betterment of everyone.



Authors Bio:
Alex Tate is a Health IT writer for various platforms. He provides perceptive, engaging and informative consultancy on industry wide topics. He knows that no single approach is the right one for every practice, and so shall advice according to the requirements. The consultancy is based around EMR Systems, Practice Management and Billing Solutions. MACRA/MIPS consultancy is also available to achieve the highest returns and revenue for your practice.

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