Thursday, September 21, 2017

How can Blockchain revolutionize Healthcare?

The blockchain technology has been generating plenty of buzz across industries even before its commercial rollout. This much-hyped technology has been grabbing newspaper headlines although it is still a long way from being ready for commercial adoption. In fact, a recent study by Infosys and LTP revealed that the commercial adoption of blockchain technology is unlikely to happen at least until 2020.

There is also confusion in some quarters, if not everywhere about what this technology is all about? Blockchain is a decentralized ledger that records and stores every transaction across a peer-to-peer network. It stands out for data integrity, networked immutability and for being tamper-proof.

There is a lot of talk and activity in the industry around the disruptive nature of blockchain and its possible impact on businesses. The big question is: How can blockchain revolutionize the healthcare industry? It is perhaps too early to make an emphatic statement but one cannot overlook the new possibilities this technology will present for the healthcare industry. Blockchain-powered health IT systems can facilitate health data interoperability, data integrity and security, portable user-owned data among others. What’s more, blockchain could ensure cryptographically secure and irrevocable data exchange systems. Leveraging such a technology will ensure seamless access to historic and real-time patient data and eliminate data reconciliation costs. A classic example of blockchain technology in the healthcare space could be the recent collaboration (on a trial basis) between data-centric security company Guardtime and Estonian eHealth Foundation to secure the health records of one million Estonian citizens. But such a model is unlikely to be replicated globally given the complexities surrounding data ownership and governance structure for health data exchange between public and private entities.

Claims adjudication and billing management is another area where blockchain can transform the operating ways of the healthcare industry. It is estimated that around 5-10% of healthcare costs are fraudulent owing to excessive billing or billing for non-performed services. One can recall the Medicare fraud in the US that caused around $30 million in losses in 2016. Blockchain-enabled systems have the potential to automate the majority of claim adjudication and payment processing activities and minimize these medical billing-related frauds. Not just that, blockchain systems could help to root out the need for intermediaries and trim administrative costs for providers and payers.

Pharmaceutical companies have been incurring an estimated annual loss of $200 billion owing to sale of counterfeit drugs. Blockchain can play a significant part in ensuring drug supply chain integrity. This technology can facilitate a chain-of-custody log, tracking each step of the supply chain at the individual drug/product level. Furthermore, add-on functionalities such as private keys and smart contracts could help build proof of ownership of the drug source at any point in the supply chain and manage the contracts between different parties. Take the case of iSolve LCC that is currently working with multiple pharma/biopharma companies to implement its Advanced Digital Ledger Technology (ADLT) blockchain solutions to help manage drug supply chain integrity.

This technology can be leveraged to cope with unreported clinical trials that can create patient safety issues and knowledge gaps for healthcare stakeholders and health policymakers. Blockchain-enabled, time-stamped immutable records of clinical trials, protocols and results could potentially address the issues of outcome switching, data snooping and selective reporting, thereby reducing the incidence of fraud and error in clinical trial records. Blockchain-based systems could help drive unprecedented collaboration between participants and researchers around medical research innovation in fields like precision medicine and population health management.

Health data breaches are a huge concern in the healthcare industry. According to the Protenus Breach Barometer report, as many as 450 health data breaches occurred in 2016, affecting over 27 million patients. The blockchain technology can avoid such breaches due to hacking and ransomware.

Given the current growth of connected health devices, the existing Health IT infrastructure and architecture will find it highly challenging to support the evolving IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) ecosystems. It is estimated that 20-30 billion healthcare IoT connected devices will be used globally by 2020. Blockchain-enabled solutions can bridge the gaps of device data interoperability and ensure data security, privacy and reliability around IoMT use cases. Companies such as Telstra (user biometrics and smart homes), IBM (cognitive Internet of Things) and Tierion (industrial medical device preventive maintenance) are actively working around these use cases.

One would stop short of suggesting that blockchain will revolutionize the healthcare industry but there is no denying the fact that this technology will drive enhanced operational efficiency of healthcare players. Bring on blockchain! The healthcare industry across the globe is excited to embrace it!

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