The benefits of blockchain are important and often misunderstood. But behind the hype, there is strong evidence that the technology has the potential to revolutionize how we keep records.
The potential of blockchain has given otherwise stiff corporate institutions a reason to get excited about database entry – including the multi-billion dollar world of electronic healthcare records, a notoriously inefficient system plagued with high administration costs (Grand View Research).
The main challenge is that many electronic health records (EHR) systems are incompatible, leaving many hospitals unable to electronically send patient data, a frustrating dilemma the industry sums up as a lack of “interoperability.”
Blockchain addresses this challenge in theory, but many engineers are skeptical if the decentralized platform can handle the scale of the job. One source of trepidation is the size of these files, which can drift into the terabytes once scan results are take into account.
Many in the blockchain community are focusing on smaller tasks that the nascent technology can handle. Here’s a list of what blockchain companies are currently doing to break into the healthcare industry. Add another application using EDIT.
The problem: A hospital can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars vetting a new doctor’s work history before they officially start (Physicians Practice Specialist). Eighty five percent of physicians are missing critical information when it’s time for hospitals and insurance companies to “credential” a doctor, according to Modern Medicine Network.
How blockchain can help: Blockchain thrives in synchronizing records using distributed ledgers, which are similar to Google Docs. These ledgers, however, clearly list edits and make deleting previously entered information nearly impossible. Giles Ward, chief operating officer of Hashed Health, says that distributed information that doesn’t change is perfect for blockchain.
“Doctors don’t “un” go to medical school and yet hundreds of (administrators) will call a doctor’s medical school, residency, fellowships etc. through the course of their careers,” Giles told WikiTribune.
Hashed Health, a prominent blockchain collective focusing on this issue, says hospitals lose an average of $7,500 a day on administrators verifying a doctor’s resume. The process can take months.
How it works: The credentialing process for a physician begins once they start residency. Their education history has been verified, and their performance in the hospital is logged. Blockchain could potentially help these verified credentials be accessible to healthcare professionals in the future institutions they practice in throughout their careers.
Hashed Health envisions their “Physician Credentialing Exchange” as a one-stop shop for vetting physicians. While a physician’s education history would not change, hospital administrators could update the distributed ledger to reflect new licenses a physician obtains to perform new medical procedures.
The new company Procredex, (Professional Credentials Exchange) is designed to be a seamless part of the existing process and work with existing systems. It adds two critical steps – a check at the beginning to see if the credential exists and has been verified before, and if not, a step at the end of the verification process recording the newly verified credential in the exchange.
Hashed Health’s Giles Ward doesn’t describe their credentialing system as a radical change to American healthcare. In his view, the blockchain community is too focused on selling the technology instead of identifying the areas where it’s needed.
“It is about what you can do with a blockchain backend, not the fact that it has a blockchain backend,” says Ward, referring to behind the scenes technology.
Selling access to your health records
The problem: Your data privacy is far more regulated when it comes to your medical records. Sharing someone’s medical history without their consent can be a deemed a federal crime under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. A patient must waive their HIPAA rights for a new doctor to access their medical history. But granting permission can be cumbersome especially since it involves a patient giving their signature.
How blockchain can help: A number of blockchain companies are trying to become the first to allow patients to control “permissions” to their health records. Patients would not have their medical records, those files would continue to exist in hospital databases. But if everyone uses the same blockchain service, hospitals could share patient data without calling the patient for permission.
Doctors and hospitals are not the only ones interested in your medical history though. Pharmaceutical companies use millions of patient records for research and will pay big data companies for the access (Time).
CoverUS is a New-York based startup is developing a platform that allows patients to be paid for access to their own records. The patient is paid in a cryptocurrency that can be used to reduce the cost of gym memberships and other health-related services (Blockchain Healthcare Review).
How it works: The concept is not too different from how a Bitcoin wallet lists transactions. Blockchain has proven it can handle a stack of who was given access, and those who had it taken away.
For example, a doctor in Chicago who needs to see an MRI scan in a Dallas hospital would request access from the patient using the blockchain platform. The patient would then grant specific permission for the Chicagoan physician to see their MRI. The doctor’s office would then contact the Dallas hospital to ask them to mail over the MRI. (Sending records is still off chain and often offline).The Dallas admin would refer to the same ledger to make sure the patient actually gave access.
Pay physicians more quickly
The problem: Hospitals spend roughly $1 out of every $7 on billing operations, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Meanwhile, reimbursement for doctors can take months after sorting out a claim with an insurance provider.
How blockchain can help: Streamlining the billing process can be difficult since it involves waiting for a check from third-party insurance companies. A company called Solve.Care has introduced a cryptocurrency that runs on blockchain, Care.Coin, to pay healthcare workers which can be redeemed for cash.
Getting doctors to agree to be paid in cryptocurrency will be a focus for Solve.Care, says CEO Pradeep Goel. But he’s confident that an immediate and transparent payment system will lead to more hospitals to adopt the technology.
How it works: For the system to truly blossom, patients would also have to use the blockchain platform where they could schedule and rate their physicians. If this ambitious step were to be accomplished, co-pay and deductible information available to the patients from the onset, while the physician would know how much it pays. After the appointment is complete, the patient and doctor could use the platform to verify that a procedure was indeed complete, and the insurer could make the payment.
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