Blockchain for Healthcare Data
Blockchain for Healthcare Data | A Means to Improve Interoperability and Transportability of Patient Medical Records
Change Healthcare’s, a provider of healthcare technology solutions, recent acquisition of PokitDok, a leading provider of platform-as-a-service tools and software for developing healthcare applications, highlights the promise of using blockchain technology to streamline the management and analysis of patient healthcare data.
As noted in Change Healthcare’s December 18th press release:
“This acquisition is about practical innovation to create a more connected, transparent and efficient healthcare system where patients control their own information,” said Kris Joshi, Ph.D., executive vice president and president, Network Solutions, Change Healthcare. “As the leader in blockchain for healthcare and with one of the most extensive open API marketplaces available, with PokitDok we are bringing together synergistic assets and technical expertise for delivering additional capabilities to our customers and accelerated value to digital health markets.”
For years the global healthcare industry has struggled to find a streamlined way to manage patient records. The emergence of blockchain and secure, decentralized data management technologies, may offer a way to create portable, interoperable digital health records for patients.
A Radically Oversimplified Blockchain Primer
A blockchain refers to the way data is structured and stored and is commonly described as a financial ledger with entries or records of transactions. Each transaction is digitally signed to ensure its authenticity and that it is not altered. Digital ledger entries are distributed across a number of different computers, servers, and devices. These multiple layers, or data storage points, serve the purpose of establishing a consensus about the transaction in nearly real time; each has copies of the existing authenticated ledger distributed amongst them. When a new transaction or an edit to an existing transaction comes in to a blockchain, a majority of the nodes within a blockchain infrastructure must execute algorithms to evaluate and verify the history of the individual blockchain block that is proposed. If a majority of the nodes come to a consensus that the history and signature is valid, the new block of transactions is accepted into the ledger and a new block is added to the chain of transactions. This model allows blockchain to act as a distributed ledger without the need for a central authority to affirm which transactions are valid.
Implications for Healthcare
The highly trustworthy, private, available, and decentralized nature of data stored in blockchains makes the technology an interesting candidate for managing patient health records. Across most health systems, and even in some hospitals, there are multiple electronic medical records (“EMRs”) or other sources of patient information. Each system has its own way of recording data and connecting with other systems, making it extraordinarily difficult to share medical records when patients are traveling, or even between different facilities within the same health system. Sometimes important health records cannot be located in a timely fashion, or at all, leading to complications in treatment and resulting in avoidable costs. Blockchain technologies are well positioned to address these issues of portability and accessibility of patient health records. The creation of a healthcare blockchain will allow each patient encounter with a healthcare provider, routine checkup, prescription, allergy, etc., to be added to an individual’s record, irrespective of the healthcare IT system being used to record the data initially and solving current interoperability issues while creating a secure way to store highly personal protected information.
While large-scale commercial healthcare blockchains have not been deployed yet, MHT Partners views it as being only a matter of time before leading healthcare systems and healthcare IT developers begin to leverage the potential of blockchain technology to begin to stitch together a global patchwork of disparate EMRs and other sources of patient data.
In addition to the benefits noted above, this common record could allow for research across large cohorts over long periods of time on an anonymous basis or sync with wearable health devices providing physicians or emergency responders with real-time patient data in the field. The applications for blockchain technology abound and will surely transform the way we manage healthcare data. It will be exciting to see the developments and changes introduced to healthcare systems in the coming years.
MHT Partners, a leading healthcare services investment bank, provides bespoke advisory services to niche market business in the middle market. If you would like to learn more about MHT’s healthcare services practice, please e-mail Taylor Curtis (email@example.com) or Alex Sauter (firstname.lastname@example.org).