The innovative minds inside the blockchain industry see a huge opportunity in healthcare. When you consider the healthcare records ramifications, you might call it a “blockchain healthcare disruption”.  CoinDesk has an article that summarizes this nicely:

Blockchain Healthcare Disruption in 2018

“Entering 2018, two things are clear – 1) healthcare is ripe for disruption and 2) there is a massive opportunity for blockchain technology to lead this transformation. From medical records to the pharmaceutical supply chain to smart contracts for payment distribution, there are plenty of opportunities to leverage blockchain technology in healthcare.”

An interesting related article from Nasdaq.com first observes that “healthcare is a highly regulated and complex business, which makes identifying viable solutions challenging. Moreover, insurance companies and other industry players often pursue their own interests to the detriment of the individual patient. The average, everyday consumer, therefore, has little or no sway in terms of personal accountability or “skin in the game” in regard to managing their own health.”  Then it details a stunning solution already in the works involving blockchain.  “At the epicenter of this theme is a blockchain-centric project that aims to reshape the healthcare landscape for both health service providers and individuals utilizing a free-market, self-directed approach. Universal Health Coin (UHC), as it is known, is a public benefit corporation in the throes of launching an anonymous, token-based healthcare system that employs blockchain technology to arbitrage, decentralize, fund and provision the fair payment of health services worldwide.”

But what is “blockchain” and how can it transform healthcare? To get to the answer, you have to understand how it functions in addition to how it might be used.  Basically, blockchain is an encryption method for data.  What data?  Well, most people have heard of a type of financial data these days known as Bitcoin.  The security is very strong and there is no central bank involved in its administration.  So, users are free to speculate and use it as currency without dealing with financial institutions.  Bitcoinist has an article that details how a group of innovators within healthcare that understood both angles came together in 2017. “This group of physicians realized right away that this data can be stored on distributed ledgers – on the blockchain – to keep it secure, but also accessible in such a way so as to make medical care more effective.”

Forbes has a recent article that explains what is possible for individuals in control of their health data.  In a blockchain healthcare disruption, the individual could take back control of their own health records.  “I would carry my records with me to the ER, but they would be digital, located somewhere in the cloud. I would give the doctor consent to access my data. The ER doctor could update my data in real time. I would go to the follow-up physician and give her consent to access my newly updated data. Gone would be repetitive forms and faxed documentation. She could then check my health records and also my fitness and sleep data, which would have been uploaded by my Fitbit or smartphone.  In this new paradigm, my health and fitness information is not spread across multiple health care providers but is centrally located with me. I would control access to the data, which would be stored in my virtual file folder.”

blockchain healthcare disruption is being pushed by some big players

From the Chamber of Digital Commerce’s infographic on “Blockchain’s Intersection with US Healthcare”.

Then there’s the Chamber of Digital Commerce which is dedicated to establishing “a unified voice for the blockchain technology ecosystem”.  The Chamber has put together an infographic detailing the recent history of blockchain in healthcare, which shows some of the big players behind what looks to be a groundswell of interest and investment in the technology.  Among other initiatives, the Chamber held a “Code-a-thon” last year with prizes of up to $5000 for programmers to demonstrate blockchain applications in healthcare.

Will we see a blockchain healthcare disruption in 2018?  The AMA thinks we will.  They’ve put a $10 million seed investment into Akiri, a company that will “bring the first network-as-a-service (NaaS) platform to the entire healthcare industry. Development is currently underway for its initial product, Akiri Switch™, which is a subscription-based data network that enables any type of health information to move seamlessly and securely throughout the U.S. healthcare system.”

The advantages of the technology are attracting close looks across healthcare.  Take security.  Healthcare IT News reports that “With regard to counterfeit drugs, an even newer development can help in the area of pharmacy supply chain management. Counterfeit prevention is yet another major potential use-case for blockchain in healthcare, said Tapan Mehta, market development executive, healthcare, and life sciences services practice, at DMI, a mobile technology and services company.”

Small wonder then, that at 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there was a significant buzz around blockchain for healthcare applications.  At one round-table chat session, participants were quoted in Healthcare IT News making some astute observations.  Jaquie Finn, head of digital health at Cambridge Consultants, remarked that “if there are three conditions I can see present in the scenario around the data, I will think about blockchain maybe happening: If the data is dynamic; if the current solution that they are going to have is fragmented, and if there is a suspicion of malicious activity. Those three things are like a red flag, where we could talk about when designing the system to add some blockchain technology, simply to protect the data.” Mike Jacobs, senior distinguished engineer with Optum Health, “outlined his own ideas about where blockchain is most likely to make an impact, among which were smart, legally-binding automated contracts for payments, and the transfer of health records.”

Companies like Akiri look poised to be part of the blockchain healthcare disruption.  Explains Akiri’s CEO,  Adriaan Ligtenberg, “Akiri is distinctively positioned to support security, identification, authentication, compliance, analytics, and applications.  Akiri Switch verifies healthcare data sources and destinations, allowing trusted applications to be developed and validated for patients, physicians, providers, pharma, payers and other healthcare enterprises.”  And the Forbes article cited above explains concisely what this blockchain future is like in healthcare:  “Your checkup would be recorded in your blockchain, and the doctor and the clinic could validate it. Medical equipment would update your blockchain, and your doctor and hospital would validate it. These entries in your blockchain would be permanent, transparent and searchable.”

We’ve written about blockchain solutions in the hospital revenue cycle.  In 2018, we just might see them emerge in practical applications.