There is a lot of hype around blockchain — a new type of digital ledger, where transactions are chronologically recorded and tamper-resistant. Blockchain ledgers are decentralized, so all members see and own the information cooperatively, with no middleman.
Many experts believe blockchain will be as big a disrupter as the internet. This view is supported given the numerous, big technology companies committed to adopting and developing blockchain technologies, coupled with thousands of blockchain startups. When it comes to industries that could experience a transformative impact from blockchain, health care is at the top of the list. Why? Because blockchain can break down health care silos — leading to faster and broader access to data, decreased costs and frictionless encounters with the health system.
Imagine for a moment the difficulties a patient experiences today when seeing a primary care doctor and an oncologist from two different health systems that use two different electronic medical records (EMRs). Even when organizations have a health information exchange, establishing a shared viewpoint about care protocols and clinical observations is a challenge. Here’s one way blockchain can bridge the gap: The clinics, pharmacies and hospitals could have a single blockchain ledger for all medication data, rather than sending information back and forth to update their individual record systems. This shared ledger could reduce the preventable medication errors that are believed to affect more than 7 million patients annually.The confluence of data through blockchain can also allow people to access their entire medical record in one secure and portable place — so they own their data and grant access as they see fit. That includes provider notes, lab test results, hospital and pharmacy records, data from fitness devices and more. With this kind of lifelong medical record, patients could switch doctors without filling out stacks of paperwork or ordering records to be transferred. They could get real-time data on how a medication is affecting their heart rate. At any time, they could look up whether their health plan has approved payment to their care provider and what balance is left for them to pay.
Blockchain is a great vehicle for stripping inefficiency out of the health system because it can automate data-sharing processes that will help health care organizations see vast gains in productivity and cost savings. Optum recently announced a collaboration with Humana, MultiPlan, Quest Diagnostics and UnitedHealthcare to improve access to accurate provider information. You might be surprised to learn that managing provider directories costs the health care industry over $2.1 billion each year. Some experts believe 75 percent of that cost could be eliminated with a “single source of truth” — which blockchain makes possible.
With the tremendous advances of emerging technologies in blockchain and AI, we’re headed into a new era. It’s one where collaboration is the norm because of the inherent trust that institutions can have in the technologies that connect them, and where the patient is no longer at the mercy of silos impeding his or her best care.
Read more about how blockchain can help foster connections throughout the health care system, eliminate inefficiencies and lead to better, more coordinated care.
Kerrie Holley, technical fellow at Optum, focuses on applying leading-edge technology — like AI, IoT, genomics and blockchain — to solve some of health care’s biggest challenges. For more than 30 years, he has contributed significantly to the technology landscape and is putting his skills to work to help people live healthier lives and make health care work better for everyone.