Lack of Use-Cases Delay Healthcare Blockchain Implementation

By Elizabeth O’Dowd

– Healthcare blockchain is growing, but with the technology being so new, organizations should be aware of what obstacles may hinder blockchain adoption before adding the technology to their health IT infrastructure strategy.

Blockchain is a weighted buzzword in healthcare IT as more vendors and provider organizations are seeing the value the technology can bring to the healthcare space.

A  report released by Chilmark touches on what blockchain is and what it isn’t in the healthcare space.

Blockchain is immutable and enables permanent records of transactions that cannot be changed,” report authors explained. “For transactions where fraud prevention, authenticity, or provenance of data are critical, blockchain can support transaction verification, and reduce fraud or data tampering.”

“Each block (a record of a transaction similar to a page on a ledger that includes a record of the previous transaction) on the blockchain is recorded in historical order so we have a sequential history or audit trail of all transactions.”

READ MORE: Open Source Blockchain Development Critical to Standardization

According to the report, a standard blockchain framework allows organizations to:  

  • Enable direct money transfers between two parties without an intermediary such as a bank
  • Address the double-spending challenge by utilizing peer-to-peer networks
  • Conduct time-stamp transactions on the blockchain by utilizing proof-of-work methods
  • Use nodes in a network to both protect the network as well as provide a structure that enhances security

However, there are still significant points of confusion when it comes to how blockchain will realistically be deployed in healthcare. Most of these concerns stem from how the technology will develop in the coming years. There still isn’t a clear and standard definition of blockchain, which can make it difficult to predict its value long- term.

Another point that may slow the adoption of blockchain in healthcare is how challenging the technology can be to actually implement.

“Blockchain technology has mostly been associated with the financial sector,” said a recent report by Quantzig. “But now, the applications of this disruptive technology are gradually finding its way into the healthcare sector as well.  Blockchain technology can help healthcare companies to access and share patient data securely. Although, in practice, the implementation of the same is not as easy as it sounds.”

One of the biggest challenges is the initial culture shift is will take to make blockchain realistically usable. According to the Quanzig report, altering end user behavior can be a time-consuming task as well as an expensive one. Organizations may need to bring in outside help to train end-users on how to exchange information using blockchain.

READ MORE: Why Blockchain May Not Be the Solution to EHR Interoperability

The distribution of the healthcare industry among payers and providers can also make it difficult to commit to blockchain.

“Healthcare providers and the insurance payers are not streamlined regarding handling records. Without such a system it would be a difficult task to get them to adopt blockchain technology,” said the report. “Also, if any of the participants are resistant to accepting these changes, then the usefulness of the whole system goes down the drain.”

Provider organizations also may not be willing to share their data with insurance companies which would make blockchain implementation difficult.

The possibility of changing policies can also hinder healthcare organizations from implementing new technology without there being acknowledgement from the government that blockchain may become a new staple in healthcare data exchange.

“Processes such as the implementation of the latest technological advances in healthcare administration could depend on the existing and new government policies,” said the report. “Therefore, incorporating blockchain into the healthcare sector cannot be an overnight process.”

READ MORE: New Hyperledger Project Fuels Healthcare Blockchain Development

While all these points are valid cautions organizations should keep in mind, the most prominent hinderance is the lack of proven healthcare blockchain implementations. While there are several in play at the moment, they are mostly from vendors and are mostly payer-based solutions created by health IT vendors.

Provider organizations are not quite at the point where they can confidently plan to base parts of their IT infrastructure on blockchain technology. While other industries may be beginning to create strategies for blockchain based data exchange, the healthcare industry remains rightfully cautious.

The implications of blockchain for EHR interoperability for example is one of the most popular theoretical implementations for healthcare blockchain, but it may be some time before it can realistically be implemented.

Keeping an eye on healthcare blockchain successes and failures can help give healthcare organizations a realistic idea of when to start looking into the technology to help enhance health data exchange. While blockchain has many potential uses in healthcare, keeping an eye on developments can help organizations determine its potential in their HIT infrastructure.

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