- By 2020, one in five healthcare organizations will have progressed beyond the pilot stage to use blockchain technology for operations management and patient identify, a new IDC report predicts.
- Other potential use cases are more conceptual at this stage but could include incentivizing patients to exchange data and facilitating administrative data quality and management, according to Mutaz Shegewi, IDC analyst and the report’s author.
- The rise of fast healthcare interoperability resources (FHIR) and open APIs also creates opportunities for blockchain to serve as a grid for distributing and sharing clinical data, the report says.
There has been lots of hype about blockchain’s potential to crack the interoperability and data security nuts, but the technology is still largely unproven in healthcare. Interoperability is one of industry’s most difficult challenges, so that could be an important implementation.
In January, San Francisco startup Akiri launched a vendor-agnostic tool, called Akiri Switch, that uses blockchain to securely transmit information using codes. The technology allows organizations to safely move information between disparate systems, verify data sources and destinations and build trusted applications for providers, payers and patients. The company has financial backing from the American Medical Association.
Also this year, Humana, MultiPlan, UnitedHealth Group’s Optum and UnitedHealthcare, and Quest Diagnostics announced an initiative using blockchain to improve data quality and reduce time and costs associated with changes to demographic data. The joint pilot program will look at how blockchain can ensure the accuracy of network provider directories at any given time.
And last month, Walmart won a patent for a system that stores an individual’s medical information in a blockchain database and allows first responders to retrieve it in the event of a medical emergency.
According to the IDC report, blockchain’s greatest promise lies in its ability to democratize data access and automate data processes. In particular, it could enhance interoperability by functioning as “next-generation middleware” that blends health data with decentralized, disseminated and fixed qualities.
“Blockchain essentially brings with it certain properties that may … be able to unleash a lot of the untapped value and the logic from these kind of siloed data reserves we see in healthcare systems,” Shegewi said to Healthcare Dive. “And so as healthcare increasingly needs to respond to context that it serves — whether it be patients, whether it be families, and now we’re talking about this notion of healthcare consumers … and the transformation towards more consumer-friendly experiences — all that is bringing this need to exchange data and to be able to do it through strong, robust methods of interoperability.”
To that end, blockchain could offer an alternative to other interoperability efforts, he says. Where blockchain really stands to contribute is in allowing data to be coupled with those qualities that blockchain embodies, which are better decentralization, better distribution and making data more immutable.
Still, blockchain should not be seen as a fix-all that’s going to bring rapid change to the provider vertical or to the health industry, Shegewi adds. Rather, it offers an “alternative way of supporting emerging use cases by allowing better access to data that’s embedded with decentralized and immutable qualities,” he says.