Guest Column | July 6, 2018

How AI And Blockchain Could Deliver Interoperability In Healthcare

By Sandy Hathaway, Exit3x

HIE Effectiveness Questioned As Vendors Align For More Interoperability

EHRs aren’t the boon to healthcare that we expected. They were supposed to make it easier for physicians to record and track patient data, improve patient care, and create interoperability between multiple healthcare systems.

Digitization was still new when EHRs became the standard, so some disruption was expected. However, no one predicted that keeping up with EHRs would contribute to unprecedented levels of stress and burnout among physicians in every specialty.

The problem isn’t EHRs themselves, though. Compared to writing out, storing, and sharing paper notes for every patient, electronic records are lightyears ahead in terms of efficiency. The biggest challenges are a lack of security and interoperability, which makes maintaining those records extremely cumbersome.

Fortunately, there’s hope. Organizations and leaders throughout healthcare are looking with hopeful optimism to blockchain technology to create an interoperable system in which we can finally utilize EHRs to their fullest potential.

Where EHRs Fall Short

EHRs aren’t bad — they just aren’t supported by equally innovative IT infrastructure. For instance, physicians spend an average of 33 percent of their time doing paperwork because they have to input data that they’ve already entered many times before. Or they have to struggle to decode information that the patient’s previous provider recorded.

Healthcare leaders and regulatory agencies alike recognize that current EHR systems are too much of a burden to ignore and that blockchain could be the answer to the dilemma. Blockchain is a system that creates and manages ledgers of information within a safe, largely automated database. For example, cryptocurrency exchanges are performed on blockchain because once recorded in the ledger, the transaction becomes indisputable.

In healthcare, those transactions equate to patients’ hospital visits, diagnoses, treatments, physician’s notes, outcomes, etc. All health data is recorded and organized according to a single standard, so medical experts, pharmacies, and healthcare payers all have easy access to accurate, up-to-date patient information when they need it.

What EHRs Could Be With Blockchain And AI

The implications of blockchain are becoming more prominent, and healthcare leaders are taking the technology more seriously. Startups like California-based PokitDok are already developing application programming interfaces to make accessing blockchain safer and easier. Other companies, like Digital Reasoning, are going even further by integrating AI algorithms into blockchain — the AI learns to think like physicians to detect health trends and patterns.

Together, blockchain and intuitive AI programs can help complete the evolution that EHRs started, giving healthcare providers access to benefits such as:

  1. Collaboration Among Peers

EHRs might be an industry standard, but because there’s no standard system or protocol for them, different organizations keep records differently. This makes it difficult for providers to understand or trust a patient’s medical history. Disparate data is also easy for providers to misinterpret, which can lead to misdiagnoses and inaccurate treatment recommendations.

Providers across multiple specialties and different geographical locations need to be able to collaborate with confidence to provide patients with the best care. Blockchain makes that easier by giving the healthcare industry as a whole one consistent, standard database of real-time data to work with.

  1. Safe Data Exchanges

A lack of interoperability between different health systems isn’t the only hindrance to effective collaboration. Another challenge is the difficulty of sharing data securely and in compliance with data safety regulations. Blockchain makes the data safer, but currently, patients can’t choose what they want to share. Instead, they deny access to all of their protected health information to avoid unnecessary disclosures.

With all of their PHI organized on blockchain, and with more comprehensive data-sharing options, patients can unlock the data that their providers need while keeping the rest of their profiles private. Patients have more power over their own data all while making it easier for healthcare teams to access the information they need.

  1. More Valuable Insights For Better Care

One of the biggest unforeseen complications with implementing EHRs is the vast amount of healthcare data that we now create every day. In addition to improved collaboration and safer data sharing, AI programs can help physicians make better use of blockchain by sorting through that data and gleaning the most valuable information from it.

For example, important considerations about a patient’s condition can easily get lost in the unstructured notes section of conventional EHRs. Yet within blockchain, that information (along with all of the physician’s notes) will be recorded, stored, and considered by an AI program. The program will include the notes along with any other relevant data when analyzing a patient’s medical history.

There are still a few hurdles to jump over before blockchain and AI algorithms become the norm in healthcare. But when they do — and, by all indications, they will — healthcare organizations can finally realize the benefits that EHRs originally promised and then some.

About The Author

Sandy Hathaway is a founding partner of Exit3x and co-founded technology startups RetentionGrid, which focuses on big data and predictive analytics, and AVARI, involving machine learning and personalization. For the past 20 years, Sandy has worked in strategy, business innovation, go-to-market, and growth roles in the medical device industry, including with U.S. market leader Medtronic and German remote monitoring pioneer BIOTRONIK, and she specializes in working with companies in heavily regulated and deep tech industries.