The healthcare industry sees a significant part of its operations dedicated to the management of medical and client information – personal patient data, patient incidents, records of treatments, lab results and consultant reports. The handling of sensitive data comes with a number of challenges like security, accuracy, access, compliance with industry standards, and data protection, among others.
The administration of data processing can be cumbersome, and many current systems do not guarantee that all information regarding a patient’s medical history, across the providers who have given a medical service to the patient, is digitally stored. This can make it difficult for both doctor and the patient under her care to have fast, easy access to the patient’s medical history.
Up until now, a data solution that is robust, seamless, transparent and accessible to all parties in the ‘community’ is still elusive. The healthcare industry has focused mainly on creating a centralised repository that has the capacity to hold and transmit patient data. A repository that is non-portable, non-standardised, and has limited access rights.
Blockchain technology could be the answer to some of the industry’s current challenges. Solutions could not only benefit the healthcare service provider but also the patient.
Demand for integrated healthcare services: There is an ever-growing demand for integrated healthcare services that bring together different service providers to share information, and where the ultimate beneficiary is the patient. This emphasises the need for an information technology platform that can eliminate dependency on manual intervention and which is transparent and accessible to all designated members.
Blockchain technology can offer to be the foundation for a new data model – a solution that works on Digital Ledger Technology (DLT) where data is not centralised but distributed, accessible to all members on the specific platform and where transactions need to be authenticated by all members. A robust, fool-proof, secure infrastructure that chronologically records all transactions. These features have great implications for the future of the healthcare industry and the provision of integrated healthcare services.
Data sharing: One of the most important aspects of a healthcare system is the way its data is shared across entities in the value chain. Blockchain supports seamless information sharing that can eliminate duplication, errors and inconsistencies that arise from traditional, centralised data storage. The accuracy of medical and patient data, in this scenario, reaches new highs.
Member health management: When patients with chronic conditions initiate treatment, they are exposed to a variety of services given by different health specialists, for example a fitness regime, nutrition recommendations, medication adjustments. A care coordinator identifies the treatment methodology and wellness goals, and then creates a time-bound, milestone-based, health-appraisal plan for the patient to follow. Some of these services can be supported by social apps that provide the patient with instructions, reinforcements and detailed reports from doctors and nurses. Patients can also obtain regular feedback and analytics using self-monitoring or home-care monitoring tools.
Patient data collected from different sources and different instances are inputted in the patient’s electronic health records database. With blockchain technology, this data can be decentralised and distributed to other entities in the healthcare ecosystem.
A care coordinator in charge of the health management of the patient has on-demand access to complete patient data and, at any given time, can use the aggregate data to monitor and improve the patient’s health.
Smart contracts: In simple terms, a smart contract is a coded software programme that integrates the conditions, legalities and provisions of a contract and automates actions accordingly. An electronic ‘contract’ enables the automation of the administrative tasks related to processing the patient’s benefits, specifying the payment terms and conditions. The smart contracts application eliminates the need for intermediaries to manage and execute the member/patient contracts. This process decreases costs significantly and maximises performance, enabling accuracy, speed, and transparency.
These contracts can also define the type and quantity of data to be collected, as well as how that data can be used for the patient’s well-being. With this smart-contract file on a blockchain network, the provider does not need to call into the insurance company for every appointment or log in to a portal in order to validate the patient’s eligibility. The eligibility can be determined and confirmed real-time via the smart contract.
A patient-centric industry: The healthcare industry should always and at all times be patient-centric. The last thing that patients need when they are sick, especially when they are seriously or chronically ill, is the added stress of not being efficiently and duly served by those in charge of their well-being.
If blockchain can improve the quality and the levels of care given to patients, and the standards we are used to, then key stakeholders in the healthcare industry should seriously explore the possibilities that this new technology is being touted for. A technology that also promises significant cost savings and increased profit margins for business.