Blockchain: Healthcare Industry Disruptor for Single-Source Patient Records

Blockchain could be the paradigm-busting technology disruptor needed to push the healthcare industry toward a single source of truth for the electronic health record. Today, as most providers and patients know, the patient’s health record is scattered among current and former primary care physicians, specialists, outpatient treatment facilities, pharmacies and hospitals.
There’s little chance any of this information is easily accessible during a routine office visit much less during a healthcare crisis. In the future, however, blockchain—a series of secure, distributed databases–may be the answer. Using an encrypted network, the patient health record could become the single source of a patient’s health data, owned by the patient and accessible only by those given the correct security key. This patient-directed health record would be a hack of the ledger system that runs Bitcoin.
Healthcare providers are already looking into the feasibility of blockchain in the medical world:
“Blockchain’s distributed…technology could also provide a single source of truth regarding payer, provider and patient records. The result would be better collaboration and increased efficiency, and 41 percent of respondents cited improved…EHR interoperability as one of blockchain’s top benefits,” according to the report.
The notion of a distributed, decentralized set of databases isn’t a new one. Today, health records are already housed in numerous systems. The big difference, and it’s a major one, is that the databases in a blockchain can “talk.” This talking could allow patients and providers access to the patient’s full medical record at any time in any place. It would be a single-source of truth.
The information would be encrypted with patients holding the credentials; they would allow specific providers access and the ability to update information. The health record would always be accurate.
Researchers at the MIT Media Lab are exploring the feasibility of creating a healthcare blockchain medical records. To get buy-in, they’re looking to provide de-identified, aggregated patient data as a reward for allowing the blockchain to use the computational resources necessary to verify the data held within health record. (This is comparable to bitcoin “miners” who provide computer resources in exchange for portions of bitcoin.)
A blockchain medical record doesn’t yet exist, however, as new payment methods emerge and become reality—value-based reimbursement and bundled payments—providers, payers and patients will need to work together to satisfy the quality of care and health outcomes expectations. A blockchain medical record—a true single source for the patient record—could be a step in the right direction.
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