Blockchain technology allows the distribution of digital information without allowing it to be copied or misused in any other way. The technology was originally designed for Bitcoin, the first digital currency but now its use is spreading into other industries as well.
Blockchain has now entered the healthcare arena and it comes with a great deal of bravado. In 2015, the first company to adopt blockchain was Tierion when it collaborated with Philips Blockchain lab. Since then, there has been a lot written about Blockchain and its potential impact on healthcare.
Blockchain evolved along with Bitcoin nearly 8 years ago. Bitcoin was established as a network for the global transference of value without the usual middlemen or central command. Major advantages include its ability to maintain the integrity of data, its easy availability and a broad network consensus.
Some believe that facts about blockchain have become mixed with fantasy and that its benefits are more of a hype than reality, while there are others who foresee an optimistic future for its use in healthcare.
Why Is There An Interest In Blockchain Technology In Healthcare?
There is a general feeling that blockchain technology can help improve standards in the management of healthcare records, ease of access to patient data for insurance companies and enable patients to see their own data without any restrictions.
It is believed that large medical organizations like Medicare, Medicaid, Council for Affordable Quality Health and the Institute of Medicine can readily evaluate patient data on Blockchain and make dynamic recommendations on change of patient care, policies and implementation of regulations.
Advantages Of Blockchain Technology
Some of the advantages associated with Blockchain include:
1. Data security and integrity maintained which in turn, will help reduce costs of regulation and improve compliance.
2. The interactions between insurance companies, third-party payers, and healthcare institutions made easier.
3. Help introduce and establish new standards in the storage of medical data in clinical practice.
4. Verify the integrity of patient medical information shared between healthcare institutions.
5. Assist start-ups and mid-size healthcare institutions form consortiums and avoid any disruptions.
6. Timestamp will create audit trail helping reduce fraud in healthcare and prevent alteration of data from clinical trials, patient medical records, and any other administrative function.
7. Lower the cost of audits because all the data is in one place.
8. Can help ensure regulatory compliance among all healthcare workers and institutions.
Disadvantages Of Blockchain Technology
While there is no denying the advantages mentioned above, some experts feel that it may be premature to introduce it to healthcare. The key disadvantages of the technology include:
1. “Hostage Situation” Blockchain technology is locked in with a vendor since this gives the vendor control over pricing. Switching can be done but the costs can be prohibitive and hence one may be stuck with the system. This gives the vendor complete control over patient data. In addition, the vendor can raise the cost of the service at anytime. This type of scenario is akin to being held hostage and may not a viable option for healthcare institutions.
2. “Don’t Believe the Hype” Many believe that the technology is more of a hype than reality. So far there have been tall claims about its advantages without any solid data to prove how it actually benefits the industry. Some experts feel that blockchain is not ready for prime time and it is only the vendors who are promoting the product. Blockchain has not exactly blown away the financial industry even though it has been around for at least 8 years.
3. “Risky Business” Healthcare decisions are made with a great deal of thought as patient lives depend on the institution. Cyberattackers are constantly hacking into databases and asking for ransom. So far, no one knows how secure Blockchains are and hospitals need to be assured of the safety of their records.
4. “Still Taking Baby Steps” Blockchain technology is still in its infancy and remains untested. Also, IT developers with blockchain expertise are not readily available. These factors greatly increase the security risks and may increase the costs of the system.
5. “Password Protect Everything” Patient control of their data presents a security concern due to the potential loss or theft of their digital devices. If lost or stolen technology is not password protected, the patient’s medical information could get into the hands of cybercriminals.
Blockchain technology for healthcare is still in its infancy and one cannot determine its security and safety of healthcare data. The system remains pretty much untested to date and the actual application of this technology in healthcare can only be determined with more experience. The technology must be used cautiously and appropriately to ensure that patient data is not compromised and healthcare institutions are able to retain their operations smoothly and secure