This is the million dollar question asked by many, particularly those who unjustifiably suffered the consequences of having inaccurate or outdated health data scattered across different facilities, platforms and (many times) incompatible databases. In fact, wrongly entered data is one of the main causes preventing doctors and healthcare providers from building a complete and fully accurate record of a patient’s health. And this is where blockchain, which already managed to revolutionize the accounting industry, enters into the picture.
But what is blockchain and what can it do for healthcare? In short, blockchain is a decentralized database where every single detail about our health could be stored and automatically confirmed without intervention. Although the database is accessible to every doctor, only those people can see the data to whom the patient gives explicit consent. This could not only mark the end of the expensive interoperability madness (which makes transferring medical records between institutions a nightmare), but could also lead to the better protection of patient privacy regarding electronic health records.
Secure Health Data Management
Even though blockchain sounds very futuristic, the concept is actually quite old, as it has been gaining some popularity over the last few years. Companies like Deloitte, IBM, PA Consulting Group and Tierion already issued a number of research papers on the material, even exploring the pros of the blockchain technology in the healthcare sector.
The No. 1 advantage is that patients have full access to and complete control of their respective health data, sharing them only with healthcare providers of their own choice. On the other hand, if the patient agrees to give access to healthcare providers, they can manage valuable information on medicines, illnesses, surgeries, results of routine check-ups and even earlier records of vital signs. Blockchain is also highly beneficial from doctors’ point of view, as they can safely access the entire history of their patient’s health with a simple request. In fact, as Angela Stark, Press Officer of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated, the technology can be particularly useful in those healthcare institutions (i.e. oncology) where large volumes of data recording serious illnesses has to be mass-produced, stored and shared by numerous different institutions.
Moreover, blockchain not only allows hospitals, labs, insurance companies and others to have real-time access to complete and fully updated health records, but it is also safer than uploading everything to a massive cloud database. In fact, since records are stored on decentralized blockchains, patients can rest assured that their data are fully secured and are virtually immune to hacker attacks.
And what does the future hold for blockchain in healthcare? According to IBM’s study, a very prosperous one. As a matter of fact, the same study, which involved 200 healthcare executives, stated that the implementation of a commercial blockchain solution is expected to happen by 2017 or, as the majority of healthcare officials believe, by the start of the new decade. This leads to the conclusion that blockchain made a great first impact, with executives highlighting the fact that it promises a huge improvement in a more accurate and safer management of sensitive health data.
While blockchain indeed seems a much-needed solution and a nice concept that gives patients the ultimate word, only time will tell whether it becomes a common practice not only in the U.S. but in other parts of the world too.