You may have heard of blockchain in relation to a cryptocurrency called Bitcoin, but blockchain is more than just a safe way to send payments back and forth. Using blockchain to secure and track health and medical records, as well as medical R&D data, could revolutionize the way the world of healthcare data is managed.
What is blockchain?
To put it simply, blockchain is a system of recording and storing transaction records. The blockchain is unchangeable and built from linked transaction blocks that are then stored in a digital ledger. Only accessed users have the ability to request a change or to update the blocks, or transaction records; requests are sent to included parties through the blockchain to evaluate the requested change. Because of this system, any interaction within the blockchain is known to all blockchain participants. You can learn more about blockchain in our blog, “Blockchain: How It Works.”
How does blockchain relate to healthcare?
In the world of healthcare, data security is extremely important. Healthcare organizations manage huge amounts of data, including electronic health records (EHRs), patient health information (PHI), medical insurance claims, and more, making it crucial that these records are managed securely. Furthermore, there are other elements of medical data to think about, including how research and development data is handled and shared, as well as how individuals can access and use their own private medical data (like personal genomics). While the types of healthcare data run far and wide, blockchain may be a new, more secure way to handle healthcare data, as it offers:
1. Stronger Data Security & Communication
Blockchain could provide top-level security, including highly restricted access, when it comes to securing patient records and other medical information that may be stored in the hospital system. If implemented, blockchain has the potential to be the necessary key in keeping medical data private, secure, and up-to-date, and that’s all because the original information stored cannot be modified, all requests for changes are tracked, and access is restricted to limited parties.
“Blockchain offers the possibility of creating a reliable place to track the changes across systems in a manner that gets around many of the concerns associated with data integration between proprietary systems. In effect, blockchain becomes the unifying glue that holds together a highly fragmented healthcare record.”
Holding this fragmented healthcare record together, and creating a better line of communication surrounding a patient, could significantly reduce (or even prevent) medical errors — estimated to be the third leading cause of American deaths.
2. Continuous Tracking of Services and Money
Tracking the flow of healthcare services and money is considered to be one of the greatest cost burdens in U.S. healthcare — billions of dollars are spent trying to reconcile which patients received what service, from which provider, and under whose authority. Blockchain’s nearly instantaneous tracking capabilities — and its independent architecture — make it a potentially reliable way to reduce errors, disputes, fraud, and any associated time or financial burdens.
3. Trusted, Collaborative R&D Data within Healthcare and Life Sciences
A central, if not evolving, element of the research and development (R&D) of medical, pharmaceutical, and biotech therapies is collaboration, but when research institutes and government agencies fear their data will be stolen in route, they are less likely to share or collaborate, which ultimately means less cross-collaborative discoveries are made. Blockchain’s secure, transparent qualities may offer a solution, however, as “blockchain offers the possibility for trust to be hard-coded into the process of collaborative R&D in a way not possible before. More trust means more collaboration and, in turn, more productivity.”
How will blockchain change healthcare data?
The blockchain system has the potential to effectively assist healthcare organizations in eliminating the IT issues and challenges that come with the privacy, communication, and storage of massive amounts of data. By eliminating a variety of healthcare IT issues in security and communication, as well as fostering a better way to share healthcare-related research data, blockchain could be the answer to many of today’s healthcare data problems. If nothing else, stronger healthcare data security would mean organizations and providers would be able to return all of their attention to what they’re truly passionate about: quality patient care.
Is blockchain the future of healthcare data security?
Blockchain is already widely used in the financial world and has effectively changed the way their data is stored and managed. Bringing it into the healthcare field just might be the most effective way to prevent data breaches, strengthen patient privacy, reduce medical errors, appropriately track and bill for services, and bolster trust in collaborative medical studies. While blockchain does sound promising, time will only tell if it is the right step for healthcare data security. Stay tuned!