Blockchain technology has somewhat infamously been described as “a solution in search of a problem,” but as the healthcare industry responds to the demands of the pandemic, several valuable use cases have surfaced that could benefit from employing the emerging technology.
Due in large part due to its ability to promote trust, transparency, and privacy, blockchain has emerged as today’s best technology-based option for accomplishing the important objective of delivering real-time access to critical information that is presented in a consistent format from trusted sources.
False positives, duplicate records, and privacy issues make it very difficult to derive actionable intelligence with confidence from the current data-sharing infrastructure that exists in the healthcare industry. Further, lack of trust represents another challenge that hinders the formation of greater transparency, as much of the healthcare industry remains reluctant to pervasively share data due to privacy and competitive barriers.
By design, blockchain allows for competing organizations to come together to share data about their patients in a completely auditable way, while maintaining their competitive independence and privacy concerns. It is these fundamental qualities that have helped blockchain emerge as a viable solution for a number of critical healthcare functions whose importance has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as contact tracing, provider credentialing, and patient records-sharing.
Blockchain: The basics
Before delving into the specifics of what blockchain can do for healthcare during the pandemic, it is important to establish a general understanding of blockchain’s basics. By no means is it necessary for most healthcare executives to develop a deep knowledge of the technology, but familiarity with its essential elements will enable business leaders to speak roughly the same language as healthcare technology experts as blockchain continues to gain prominence.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that enables users to share trusted and verified information in a decentralized manner. Combined with security and cryptography technology, blockchain can protect the privacy of users who contribute data while also sharing the provenance of the data, enhancing trust.
Blockchain technology provides a safe, effective way to accurately document, maintain, store, and move data – from health records to financial transactions. With blockchain, people can directly engage with others to receive services, transfer money, and perform other common daily tasks we do in business today.
Blockchain use cases
The biggest benefits offered by blockchain are associated with greater trust and privacy due to the technology’s ability to enable better data accuracy and verification. At its most basic level, blockchain changes ownership and control of data from one centralized source to multiple sources that contribute data. Following are three COVID-19-related use cases for blockchain in healthcare.
Contact tracing: To follow the potential transmission of the novel coronavirus, many governments have embarked upon contact tracing, in which infected individuals are asked to list all other people they’ve come into contact with over a certain period of time. Decentralization of data helps facilitate critical healthcare operations such as contact tracing because the process is reliant on using granular, sensitive data to inform public health officials of who may be at risk of exposure based on their movements and contacts. In contract tracing, maintaining individuals’ privacy is critical. Earlier this year, blockchain platform Nodle launched a contact-tracing app called “Coalition,” which emphasized user privacy.
Patient-record sharing: Another valuable use case for blockchain as it relates to COVID-19 is the aggregation of patient records during a crisis or disaster to create a “light” electronic health records system, which disparate groups of providers can use to share patient records while treating unfamiliar patients during the pandemic or other crises and natural disasters. Such a platform will allow providers to work with patients who may not have access to their usual provider, but still receive the full range of needed services and prescriptions. The main concept of the solution is that patients’ electronic health records follow them wherever they go. In other words, regardless of where the patient stays during a disaster, there is always access to their personal medical information and they are able to receive required medical services. This patient data can be delivered through a blockchain digital wallet, providing access, security, and integrity of data.
Provider credentialing: Provider credentialing — which is the process of verifying providers’ skills, training and education — is an often-tedious, time-consuming process for both providers and payers that can lead to delays in care that contribute to poor health outcomes. By using blockchain for the process, providers can maintain control of their own data and give health systems, payers and other authorities access to their credentials as they like. Earlier this year, five organizations announced plans to use a new blockchain credentialing system from ProCredEx with the aim of using distributed ledger technology to reduce time and costs associated with the traditional approach to credentialing.
The right technology at the right time
It is important to note that blockchain technology requires a cultural and paradigm shift toward broader collaboration across traditionally disparate and potentially competitive entities. The technology facilitates a framework that allows organizations to contribute to joint efforts without risking their intellectual property or proprietary information. However, it will still require an intentional change in behavior to successfully work across different business interests toward a common goal. Nonetheless, to surmount the challenges posed by healthcare’s manual, time-consuming processes for contact tracing, patient record-sharing, and provider credentialing, blockchain represents the right technology at the right time.
About Brett Furst
A senior executive with nearly three decades of experience in selling and managing technology solutions within the manufacturing, CPG, and healthcare industries, Brett Furst serves as president of HHS Technology Group, a software and solutions company serving the needs of commercial enterprises and government agencies.