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Will Healthcare Blockchain Resolve Data Privacy Concerns?

A recent Black Book survey shows the majority of medical group managers and IT specialists believe healthcare blockchain will alleviate data privacy concerns.

data privacy concerns could be aided with healthcare blockchain

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth Snell

- Healthcare blockchain is increasingly being viewed as a potential solution to numerous IT problems, such as connectivity issues, data privacy concerns, and patient record sharing barriers, according to a recent Black Book survey.

The Black Book Q3 report interviewed 88 healthcare payers and 276 provider technology executives, managers, and IT specialists.

Nearly all payers that were surveyed – 98 percent – with more than 500,000 members said they were actively considering or were in the process of deploying blockchain solutions. Fourteen percent said they were involved in some form of trial deployments.

Seventy percent of all size payer organizations said they believe blockchain will be integrated into their systems by Q1 2019. In contrast, 9 percent of provider health organizations and systems reported they are set to implement blockchain by Q2 2018.

Eighty-two percent of health insurance executives said they now have a working understanding of blockchain and nearly one-third of hospital leaders reported that they now understood blockchain.

However, worry over the potential blockchain solution cost made 88 percent of provider leaders unwilling to commit to a blockchain deployment timeframe in Q3, the report found.

Actual breaches and cybersecurity events have boosted CIO readiness significantly as compared to last year's survey," Black Book Managing Partner Doug Brown said in a statement. "Executive blockchain education has shifted from Blockchain 101 to selecting the appropriate healthcare blockchain technology protocols."

Ninety percent of hospital and medical group IT specialists and management said healthcare blockchain would resolve and expedite most interoperability and patient record sharing concerns.

Furthermore, 93 percent of managed care organization respondents said healthcare interoperability could be aided by blockchain, with 70 percent of hospital respondents stating the same.

"The most popular connectivity strategy circulating among health care technologists, and even ONC, is blockchain technology," said Brown. "The lack of technical standards for this still-immature technology is causing regulatory uncertainty while the industry anticipates explanations from federal rules at some point in 2018."

With blockchain technology, transactions can be verified and recorded through the consensus of all parties involved. For healthcare, this would allow data entered into a computer system or EHR/EMR to be validated.

Members could enter information and have his or her own copy of the ledger instead of the data being held in one location. No new transactions could be approved unless a majority agrees that the requested action is indeed accurate.

This could greatly impact the patient record process, for example. Providers might have their own versions of an individual’s health records. Blockchain technology would ideally eliminate multiple records.

For healthcare data security, having multiple checkpoints instead of one single gateway for sensitive data can improve the process. Patients would also have more control in their data, and could be able to approve or deny any sharing or changes to their data.

Hyperledger Executive Director Brian Behlendorf underlined this potential blockchain technology boon in an interview with HITInfrastructurecom, saying that blockchain could “enable or better facilitate the transfer of medical records.”

However, patients not wanting to be in control of their own records could be one of the biggest barriers to healthcare blockchain, argued VMware Senior Healthcare Strategist Chris Logan.

“At the end of the day ownership is back on the patient to request that information or store the information as they see fit,” Logan told HITInfrastructure.com. “From a compliance perspective including certain mandates healthcare providers have to conform to, this is where blockchain falls a little flat.”

Federal organizations are working to implement the right regulations for blockchain, and to see how it would impact healthcare.

ONC challenged industry stakeholders in 2016 to submit white papers on the potential role of blockchain in areas such as EHR development, big data analytics tools, research, and the management of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

“The paper should discuss the cryptography and underlying fundamentals of blockchain technology, examine how the use of blockchain can advance industry interoperability needs expressed in the Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, patient centered outcomes research (PCOR), precision medicine, and other health care delivery needs, as well as provide recommendations for blockchain’s implementation,” ONC explained.

Healthcare blockchain has the potential to address certain data privacy and interoperability concerns, but it is critical that organizations ensure they understand the technology and how it would potentially impact daily workflow. 

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