Blockchain: What is it and What Does it Mean for Healthcare and EHRs?

by Colin Konschak

 

Last week, I attended an event locally (in Virginia Beach, VA), hosted by VA HIMSS, focused on Blockchain’s impact on security and how it translates into healthcare applications. Dan Bowden, CISO at Sentara Healthcare, spoke at the event and delved into blockchain’s impact on security – the panel was a great group of leaders. The main theme of the event was that there’s a lot we don’t know about Blockchain and the benefits and potential pitfalls. We have a white paper coming out, but in light of the event, I thought we’d do a blog to cover the basics for anyone interested in the topic.

What is Blockchain?

There are a wealth of opportunities in healthcare with blockchain—the groundbreaking technology that allows decentralized, secure distribution and sharing of data and transactions. These prospects include securely distributing electronic health record (EHR) information across multiple entities, optimizing the pharmaceutical supply chain, streamlining billing and claims management while minimizing fraud, and centralizing clinical trial and outcomes data to drive innovation. And the list continues.

Who’s in on it? How are they using it?

The potential rewards are immense, so much so that they are prompting former healthcare industry rivals to join forces. In the first week of April 2018, UnitedHealth Group and Humana—two of the largest health insurance providers in the nation—joined forces with Optum, MultiPlan, and Quest Diagnostics in a pilot project with the goal of improving healthcare data quality using blockchain (Floyd, 2018).

A joint release from the companies stated, “The pilot will examine how sharing data across health care organizations on blockchain technology can improve data accuracy, streamline administration and improve access to care.”

The statement also laid out the basic problems the pilot is intended to address: “Today, managed care organizations, health systems, physicians, diagnostic information service providers and other health care stakeholders typically maintain separate copies of health care provider data, which can result in time-intensive and expensive reconciliation processes when differences arise. Industry estimates indicate that $2.1 billion is spent annually across the health care system chasing and maintaining provider data.”

So, why now?

The healthcare industry faces an urgent need to integrate EHRs in areas of data personalization and patient engagement. This is in part due to the discrepancies and medical fraud that have led to financial loss, deaths, and misdiagnosis in care delivery. By leveraging its unique properties, blockchain assures health stakeholders of authentication, confidentiality, accountability and data sharing—crucial considerations when handling sensitive health information.

As I mentioned, Divurgent will be publishing a whitepaper that explores the emerging blockchain technology and its opportunities with EHRs and the healthcare industry as a whole. David Stone, a Principal at Divurgent, will look at blockchain in-depth —what it is, how it is being used outside of healthcare, and opportunities and challenges it presents for EHR and healthcare as a whole.

Reference

Floyd, D. (2018, April 3) US Insurance Giants UnitedHealth and Humana launch blockchain pilot [news blog post]. Coin Desk. Retrieved from https://www.coindesk.com/us-insurance-giants-unitedhealth-humana-launch-blockchain-pilot/

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