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Awareness of Blockchain Technology Rising Among Healthcare Executives

Allison Inserro
Awareness of blockchain technology among healthcare executives has risen over the past year, especially over the past several months, according to a webinar hosted by Healthcare Research & Analytics® (HRA), a market research firm. However, since the technology is still in its infancy stages, that interest has not translated into widespread adoption, according to the presenters.
Awareness of blockchain technology among healthcare executives has risen over the past year, especially the past several months, according to a webinar hosted by Healthcare Research & Analytics® (HRA®), a market research firm.

The goal for blockchain technology is better data integrity and greater trust through transparency and security. However, since the technology is still in its infancy stages, that interest has not translated into widespread adoption, according to the presenters.

Blockchain is a technology that allows secure data transfers, said Jack Murtha, senior editor of Healthcare Analytics News™, the publication of HRA®.* The emerging technology provides a ledger of transactions, containing a list of dealings organized into computerized data blocks, and shared with peers over a network. Users validate transactions and the data cannot be erased or altered.

HRA® conducted a digital landscape analysis across social media platforms to see what conversations were taking place last year regarding blockchain technology. Over the past year, HRA® identified more than 56,000 healthcare conversations that mentioned blockchain.

Big data was mentioned 17% of the time and medical records mentioned 11% of the time. Most conversations took place on news sites and Twitter, with Twitter conversations soaring in November 2017 after Microsoft announced interest in the technology.

Besides medical records, other areas for potential use include digital health and so-called smart contracts, which are cryptocontracts used in blockchain technology to automate agreements without the use of a third party.

Steven W. Teppler, a partner at the Abbott Law Group in Jacksonville, Florida, and who leads the firm’s complex litigation and electronic discovery practice, said one immediate benefit of blockchain technology could be if they were incorporated into medical records.

Records without an audit point–that is, without a point in time showing when a record changed–makes a medical record "fragile." In some systems, audit points can be turned on and off. Sometimes a provider makes a change because they change the diagnosis and sometimes for other reasons, but without the audit point, the history is lost. When there is no record of the change, it is considered an incomplete record, Teppler said.

Blockchain technology, if widely adopted, will force every event to be “sequent and recorded in a way that cannot be changed after the fact,” the attorney said.

“We want to know what all the change events were,” especially from a legal and integrity perspective, he said.

Blockchain technology could help root out Medicare and Medicaid fraud, and help organizations be more compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Teppler said.

For payers, blockchain technology can help them see a real sequence of events in terms of treatments, prescriptions, find practice patterns, and even question the severity of a treatment sequence, he said.

For patients, the technology could allow them to store all of their records into small, secure bits that will give their providers complete context into their medical history. The records would also be completely portable.

Within 3 years, the respondents to the HRA® survey said they could anticipate using blockchain in the following ways:
  • Secure electronic medical records and transfer of records
  • Licensing and identification of patient data
  • Going away from paper to totally encrypted record keeping and payments company wide
  • Expand to more departments in the hospital
  • Improved processes and efficiency


But with connectivity to legacy systems still an issue, Teppler was asked how blockchain would work with older technology. He said he did not think an entire system would have to be recoded—perhaps an interface could be built between the 2.

*Healthcare Research & Analytics® and Healthcare Analytics News™ are sister brands to The American Journal of Managed Care®

 
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