While many people associate blockchain technology with the financial industry, I firmly believe that 2022 will be a pivotal year in driving healthcare industry awareness and adoption. Blockchain is being used by life sciences and healthcare supply chain and we've seen some experimentation, but we have yet to see widespread adoption by healthcare providers and payers. In this coming year, we'll see that we now have key pieces in place that can accelerate the widespread adoption of blockchain by more healthcare organizations–leading to a more interoperable system nationwide.
One of those key pieces for greater blockchain adoption is increased pressure from the federal government and the CURES Act. Consider how HIPAA took more than a decade to come to fruition. Until it actually became the law, the industry usage of X12 as an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) formatting standard never really took off. I think the CURES Act's interoperability requirements will have a similar trajectory for adoption. Blockchain makes nationwide interoperability possible by creating a verifiable trust layer, providing permissioned access to data (eliminating the need to exchange data), and increasing security through certified verification of all participants. Organizations are beginning to leverage the power of blockchain to create joint processes on a nationwide network that is blockchain enabled and this will accelerate the adoption of blockchain.
The ongoing pandemic also serves as a driver; it has clearly illustrated the impact of the lack of interoperability between systems nationwide. Had there been a national healthcare technology network at the start of the pandemic, it would have improved what we could have accomplished by more efficiently sharing clinical information, tracking positivity rates, and distributing PPE and vaccines.
Federation of data
An additional driver for blockchain adoption is the development of a nationwide, blockchain-enabled healthcare technology network. I've been on both the payer and the provider side of the interoperability equation. Payers and providers have their own unique perspective on the challenges of interoperability, but share the strong desire to solve the problem. Both sides are trying to combat building and maintaining point-to-point interchanges, which is challenging and resource intensive for both parties, and even when those interchanges are built they rarely go outside of their own independent network. Gathering information means going out and obtaining every piece of data available and storing it into a central data warehouse, where you focus a lot of expensive resources trying to appropriately attribute and manage that data. Health information exchanges (HIEs) have made progress in some states and regions over the past decade, but there remains inconsistent implementations across the country.
A blockchain-enabled network changes that complex picture, enabling entities across the ecosystem to share the broadest set of data with a high level of security and consent. The federation of data allows a payer, provider and patient to access data no matter where it exists –with appropriate permissions. A provider can send out a query to all participants (providers, payers, HIEs, HINs, etc.) on the national health network where each patient has a unique identifier with which to make it attributable. If the data queried exists and the right security and consent levels are in place, the data flows directly to the requested entity—without the need for a point-to-point connection.