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Why Healthcare Needs Blockchain

One Patient's Story

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Simple Problem, Complicated Solution

The blockchain, we’ve all heard about it. It’s in every cryptocurrency story. So, why does it matter for healthcare? For years payers, providers and the government have looked for a secure way to digitally collect and transfer all the bits of data that comprise our medical histories – without success.

Think about it. Over a lifetime, even the healthiest person has multiple doctors’ visits and tests. And, for those with more complicated medical histories, this could mean hundreds, perhaps thousands of data points. Do you remember every time you went to the doctor?

The benefits of an Electronic Health Record (EHR) are clear. At a minimum, it would help reduce costs, medical errors, and improve efficiencies. While many excellent systems have been created, despite federal laws, incentive programs and billions spent, a completely seamless, secure flow of data has yet to be achieved.

Enter Blockchain and Patient Record Ownership

As a patient and healthcare professional, I’ve experienced some of the challenges related to EHRs. Data must be protected at all costs and it must be accurate. Having previously worked with a citywide system, I’ve seen the difficulties in matching records across systems firsthand, particularly when patients have a common name like mine.

The current system is fractured. Facilities work across different platforms and have invested a lot of time and money into creating them. Staff know their systems and rightfully, are often resistant to change. The list of challenges is long.

As a patient, it often feels like the bottom line is more important than my health and recent data breaches have made me resistant to sharing my information. However, this all became meaningless in September 2016, when I was hit by a car crossing the street on my way home. When it mattered most to me, my information wasn’t available.

Though I didn’t know it, that was the moment I became a Blockchain enthusiast. My interest in data sharing increased after my father became ill and we had to move him out-of-state, away from his physical and medical home. Getting his records, though all in the same care system, proved too overwhelming while simultaneously dealing with a critically ill parent.

A Blockchain-based system could have taken some of that stress from my life. Blockchain can enable a comprehensive, interoperable and secure EHR data exchange that makes it possible for patients – like myself and my father – to access and share their records whenever wherever they are. I would simply need to give my doctor permission to access my record.

Moving Forward…

For some, the concept of owning their data is scary…for me, not having it proved much more terrifying. With any new technology, there will always be a learning and adoption curve. A cultural shift and acceptance is required, which will not be easy – behavior change rarely is.

Like most things, there are financial implications. A significant amount of money has gone into the development of current systems with significantly more funding earmarked for the future. Additionally, health-related uses for blockchain have yet to be fully explored and need to be proven.

While Blockchain technology will not fix everything that’s wrong with the healthcare system, it provides solutions to some critical components. Patients have become more engaged consumers and are demanding (or should be) greater input into their treatment and care. The system is changing – whether we all want it to or not. Isn’t it time to embrace the technology available and partner together to create better outcomes for all?

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