What Is a Blockchain?
Crypto projects are built on a foundation called ‘blockchain.’ It is an incredibly secure digital database of activities and transactions in which every record is written and timestamped by the trusted party that writes that record. Each subsequent record related to that property or transaction includes the all of the data from previous records.
As records are connected to subsequent records and other records by dependencies creating a chain of information. The blockchain is duplicated and distributed across the entire network of connected computer systems. It works so that every time a new transaction occurs on a blockchain, a record of that transaction is added to every participant’s ledger.
The blockchain structure is considered impossible to hack, delete, tamper with, or change. This is because, if one block in one chain was changed, the modification would be immediately apparent. Corrupt a blockchain system would require hackers to change every block in the chain, across all of the distributed versions at the same time. Plus, records are encrypted for extra security.
What Are the Advantages of Crypto Healthcare?
Crypto Health is the application of this secure, decentralized database structure to healthcare. But it’s not just a theory, in practice it offers real-world benefits which are only expected to increase as the application of cryptography expands.
Unified Patient Information
One of the major problems affecting efficiency and patient care is the lack of cohesion and consistency in how and where medical records are stored. Health and wellness data collected by care providers and individuals has never been converted into a standardized format. So, over a patient’s lifetime—as he or she is cared for by different providers and specialists, changes health insurance carrier, and moves geographically—his/her medical information is scattered. Comprehensive care planning is rendered nearly impossible with data saved in individual silos and not readily accessible to the network of providers engaged in treating an individual patient.
Once integrated throughout the industry, blockchain would provide a unified, unalterable record of patient information that is distributed across networks. When additional medical records are generated and signed, those new blocks would be added to the patient’s chain. For example, a new prescription or diagnosis would be accessible to subsequent providers.
Blockchain’s use of public-key infrastructure (PKI) creates a centralized identification method—an individual’s public key—that links that patient’s records across institutions. Patient matching becomes automatic even as individuals move, change names, switch insurance providers, change primary care physicians, have children, and age. A patient’s identity follows him or her for life.
In real terms, this would mean less risk of medical mistakes, dangerous drug interactions, and therapeutic duplication. Ultimately, the result would be more accurate treatment, proper medication reconciliation, and better patient safety and outcomes.
Streamlined Data Availability
Crypto health would replace decentralized databases and EHR systems that are more vulnerable to cyberattacks. A public key would allow healthcare providers to review and add to encoded patient medical records from any point on the network. Even if a patient is a child, or an adult who is unconscious or mentally impaired, emergency care could be delivered anywhere with immediate, up-to-date patient information.
Even if certain data is not available on the blockchain, providers could use meta-data to track down relevant resources. For example, if trace data shows that a patient had an X-ray done at a specific hospital in a specific year, they can request those imaging results to better inform current treatment.
Every member of a blockchain holds its own local copy of the shared records and set different access limitations can be set for different types of data. With this private key system, patients are empowered to verify edits made to their own medical records, such as new allergies and treatment plans, while ensuring data privacy.
Another innovation is that individuals could publish their own patient-generated health data (PGHD) to the blockchain network. A more holistic view of the patient’s health is then possible, tracking new symptoms and physiological data collected outside of a clinical setting.
Ownership of Medical Information
The debate over who owns data and who decides how it is used continues in many industries, not just healthcare. Using blockchain would make patients the owners of their data while providing them with a comprehensive, transparent view of their own medical history.
“A blockchain approach may be able to increase patient agency, foster empowerment, and give individuals the data management tools they need to become more engaged and more proactive as they take charge of their own care.” – Fintech News
Applying the crypto concept to healthcare would allow individuals to set access rules and permissions around their data for easier sharing and customized confidentiality. Patients could limit which providers can access sensitive data, such as mental health information and automated notifications would require patient permission to access certain blocks of data or add to records in the chain. Essentially, this gives individuals more control over how, when, and why their data is shared.
Indelible Record Keeping
Because blocks are signed and stamped by authorized parties, and the chain is tamper-proof, patients and others can be confident that personal health records are authentic. Providers can collaborate with one another directly, while still leaving the ultimate ownership of data in the patient’s hands.
This innovation will make it easier for patients to get the care they need. Patients would no longer need to lug files back and forth between multiple appointments or accurately recount the recommendations of one specialist to another. When necessary, blockchain records could work as evidence for medical, legal, and law enforcement officials about sensitive topics such as mental illness or substance use, for example.
Compliance & Shared Responsibility
With traditional HIE (Health Information Exchange), the healthcare entity is responsible for managing patient privacy and securing PHI. However, when patients are in control of their own health records—even if they are authorizing release on behalf of the entities—this transfers some of the responsibility of data governance away from institutions. The use of blockchains would create a fundamental shift towards a shared responsibility of data governance and compliance with privacy and security regulations, like HIPAA.
How Is the Logic of Crypto Applied in the Medical Field?
The blockchain logic which has made crypto projects so successful is already being used in the medical field and many believe it is the future of healthcare interoperability. Here are some early examples…
Hashed Health is a venture firm that is actively working with healthcare entities to develop functional blockchain solutions that can be integrated into existing EMR systems. The firm is exploring the ways that “blockchain-inspired technologies” can benefit the medical profession and solve real-world problems.
MedRec is project supported by MIT that is focused on integrating the blockchain in healthcare. It has built a transparent, open-source ledger for storing and sharing medical records and information seamlessly. Designed to enable direct communication, it brings patients, clinicians, and large-scale health systems together on a single platform. The group is currently working to develop and build a deployed network.
Related article: 9 Cloud-Based Tools Built for Healthcare Applications.
What’s on the Horizon for Healthcare?
Sign up for Patient Calls’ newsletter to stay up to date on technology and innovation in the healthcare sector. We report on the latest developments in solutions for interoperability, communications, data management, EMR integrations and more.