Blockchain is the newest buzzword in healthcare information technology. It's also one worth remembering.
The encryption-enabled data exchange system holds great promise in simplifying an array of healthcare data transactions on both the business and clinical sides of healthcare—from claims adjudication to precision medicine.
A key feature of blockchain technology is what's called its “distributed ledger,” a shared, immutable record of a series of time- and date-stamped transactions organized in data blocks and electronically chained together in chronological order.
There are a few early adopters using it in healthcare, but also many hopeful believers.
“It's hard to imagine a more effective lubricant for innovation in our complex, privatized healthcare system,” said Dr. Adrian Gropper, a physician informaticist who serves as the chief technology officer for the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation. A series of blockchains using open data standards could create a truly patient-centric medical record exchange system, he wrote in a white paper for HHS.
Hospitals glimpsed the dark side of the technology in February when electronic health records at Hollywood Presbyterian Health Center in Los Angeles were encrypted by hackers and held hostage until $17,000 in ransom was paid in bitcoins, a digital currency based on blockchain.
But it could have positive and far-reaching applications in healthcare transactions and information exchange.
“I think people are still trying to wade through it,” said Chuck Christian, vice president of technology and engagement at the Indiana Health Information Exchange in Indianapolis. But, he said, “You've got a lot of very high-powered minds looking at this.”
The global financial services industry has taken notice. Last year, it formed an international coalition, now including 70 of the world's largest banks and insurance companies, which is seeking $200 million in research and development funds to adapt blockchain to members' needs. IT giants the Linux Foundation, IBM and Microsoft are also doing R&D on the technology.