News Feature | February 13, 2017

Is Blockchain The Answer To The EHR Dilemma?

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Frustrated Doctor

HIMSS addresses the future of blockchain for healthcare.

Blockchain technology has been touted as the next big thing in healthcare, serving as a transformative force, as Health IT Outcomes reported. As Humana CEO Bruce Broussard writes, the technology is “positioned to be the next dramatic innovation in healthcare with a potential impact rivaling any other advances and lessons can be learned from the embracement of blockchain by the financial services industry.”

Broussard concludes, “Blockchain creates a permanent transaction history — based on contractual agreements — that could enable pre-approved entities (hospitals, health plans, physician groups, and pharma companies) to create transparent contracts (legal agreements) for the consumer.” This is important, because, “Blockchain creates a connectivity mechanism, so everyone can drop their contribution into it, and it manages the entire workflow. Most importantly, blockchain streamlines the process and enables automation that will help reduce the costs associated with claims reimbursement, leading to accurate and timely reimbursement.”

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has also recognized the potential of blockchain for healthcare interoperability, announcing a block chain challenge in July “soliciting white papers on the technology and its potential use in health IT ‘to address privacy, security, and scalability challenges of managing EHRs and resources.’” Fifteen winners, including Accenture, Deloitte, IBM, and Mayo Clinic, were announced in September.

Thirty-five percent of healthcare and life sciences organizations plan to deploy block chain in the next year, outpacing adoption in all other industries according to a Deloitte report. “It’s going to be the architecture of the underlying data layer that unites all of the disparate services of the healthcare industry into one interoperable system — all the way from tracking data from fitness devices and general wellness metrics, to treatment at medical providers, to prescriptions, all the way through to medical claims adjudication,” Micah Winkelspecht, founder and CEO of blockchain startup Gem, told Healthcare Dive.

Experts believe block chain would allow for interoperability on a whole new level for healthcare, connecting EHRs directly to blockchain, integrating information into them from hospitals, providers, and specialists, then allowing healthcare providers to access the right data at the right time on a need-to-know medical basis.

Yet, despite the optimism, HIMSS points out challenges still exist. In a conference announcement, HIMSS writes, “Two major technical concerns are: how analytics will be performed when data is on the blockchain and the amount of energy require for proof of work (keys to scalability). Both are being tackled aggressively by academia and industry with many POC’s highlighting potential answers. From an adoption perspective, the industry’s inertia, ethical use of data, versus privacy and industry standards are a few of the top concerns.”

The topic will be addressed at Rock Stars of Blockchain Healthcare at the HIMSS conference this year. As the HIMSS post suggests, “Overall, block chain may be the industry’s chance at a mulligan. The blockchain will not replace, but will re-architect many incumbent systems to remove friction and provide for new business models and greater efficiencies in healthcare. It’s time to bring healthcare infrastructure into the future.”