Blockchain: The Technology Rx for Healthcare?

Blockchain may still be an emerging technology, but much like the internet, its promise to disrupt industries is the topic of avid conversation.


Blockchain may still be an emerging technology, but much like the internet, its promise to disrupt industries is the topic of avid conversation. The appeal of blockchain lies in its ability to decentralize and encrypt transactions. Blockchains are also designed for huge volumes of disparate data. Healthcare, one of the most data intensive industries, stands to benefit greatly from the technology.

Data has presented an enormous hurdle for the healthcare industry. Disparate systems and siloed data are commonplace. The result is a lack of data accessibility and interoperability that prevents the industry from using data to make process improvements to increase clinical and operational efficiency as well as reduce costs. While blockchain’s “killer app” has yet to emerge, the technology has the potential to be applied across the industry, from clinical records and medical devices, to insurance records, payer files and the supply chain.

One of the more exciting blockchain opportunities pertains to patient identification. Today a patient is identified by a wide range of numbers -- social security, insurance, medical record, etc. For the organizations that rely on this information, this makes reconciliation of a particular patient’s data time-consuming, error-prone, and at times, downright impossible. Blockchain opens the door for the industry to connect all of those numbers together, regardless of which number an organization uses. One number connects to all the ‘who’ data for an individual patient. The same opportunities apply to business entities as well, tying together key identifiers, such as ship-to numbers, GLNs and postal code addresses, to identify a single organization.

Eliminating the guesswork in identifying and connecting patients and business entities will allow the industry to finally achieve medical record interoperability. Today a patient’s medical history is spread across multiple providers and organizations, making it difficult to not only access the information, but also share it with those who need it. Blockchain could link these multiple data sources to create a single, real-time picture of the patient.

This is only one way in which blockchain offers great promise to fix a variety of healthcare’s data challenges. In fact, many pilot projects are currently underway. These projects, which typically involve multiple industry players, underscore one of the key components of success with blockchain: industry collaboration. Blockchain technology is best suited for massive amounts of data. One-off initiatives will fail to capitalize on the technology’s strength. The industry must work together to find the best applications of the technology, otherwise it will fall short on its mission to gain insight from the vast amounts of data to improve efficiency, reduce costs and ensure outstanding patient care.