Does Blockchain Belong in Healthcare?
Healthcare providers have been slow to implement blockchain into their practice. Providers are hesitant due to: (1) unfamiliarity with this technology and how it works; (2) some don’t see its practical application to healthcare; (3) others are employing the wait and see approach to determine if it is financially rewarding; and (4) some are put off by the lack of regulation, which could expose their patient records to cybertheft.
What is Blockchain?
In 2009, blockchain stormed on the scene as the foundation for swapping digital currency. Blockchain is a permanent record of online transactions or exchanges that are logged publicly and in chronological order with corresponding time-stamps. A blockchain is comprised of a series of “blocks” or information that grows over time to create a chain. Blocks cannot be altered or deleted which allows users to follow the “crypto trail” or transaction record. Blockchain is appealing to many in the healthcare community because of its potential for data security.
Credentialed users can add to the transaction record, which can then be dispersed or shared across networks. Users on the network can validate and confirm each block of data in the chain. The key element of blockchain is that it is not housed in a central database and all transactions must be encrypted and verified by the network.
How will Blockchain revolutionize healthcare?
Data security and data interoperability are two of the most popular uses for blockchain in healthcare, but there is the potential for many other applications. Blockchain can be used to create a uniform database of protected health information (PHI) that is easily accessible by healthcare providers regardless of the type of electronic health systems that they use. Blockchain will provide greater security and privacy for patient records, it will reduce administrative processes which will allow for more time spent with patients, and it will facilitate the free flow of medical research from between providers in the treatment of diseases.
Blockchains do not have to be publicly available to everyone. A healthcare facility can limit its network to users that they authorize, such as HIPAA-covered entities and other trusted collaborators. To increase data security, a healthcare provider may place restrictions on what is on the blockchain while choosing to keep some data off the blockchain. Additionally, safeguards must be in place to protect personally identifiable information (PII) without significantly inhibiting the transfer of protected health information.
More functional data sharing between healthcare providers increases the likelihood of accurate diagnoses and better treatment while reducing the cost of delivery. Also, you can be sure that the information on the blockchain is accurate and secure. Blockchain will revolutionize health information exchanges by providing patients with direct continuous access to their records. Providers will be able to access healthcare databases on a large scale. It will also facilitate communication between primary care providers, specialists, and pharmacies who all coordinate care for a patient. All providers, payors, and pharmacies can record information about a specific patient, such as patient visits, prescribed treatment, and diagnosis onto the same ledger, which they all can access. This communication reduces abuse, misuse, and readmissions.
Is blockchain safe?
Transactions are conducted over several computers and not a single server, which makes it much more difficult to change, hack, or forge. Cybercriminals have already found a way to abscond with millions of dollars’ worth of coins in several creative ways, but experts believe that blockchain can be a much more secure method of storing patient records and other information. Blockchain wouldn’t eliminate data breaches but if the right procedures are implemented it could significantly reduce the occurrence on a large scale as we’ve seen in the past with companies like Target and Aetna.
However, many questions related to HIPAA and blockchain remain. For example, providers are unsure of how to incorporate patient bill of rights in HIPPA through blockchain and who would have right of access to records maintained on the blockchain. Many contracts will have to be amended to allow for blockchain before they can surmount many lingering legal obstacles.
As of today, federal and Florida legislators have not passed any laws that regulate blockchain in any meaningful way, but that will change as more providers adopt this technology.
You need an experienced healthcare attorney who understands blockchain and data privacy to ensure that your practice isn’t violating HIPAA, HITECH and state/federal agency rules. For more information call or email Jamaal R. Jones Esq. at (305)877-5054 or email@example.com