Blockchain to pair with other technologies to find healthcare uses

Use cases are expected to emerge first in managing financial transactions, as more vendors adapt offerings to incorporate secure data exchange.

The use of blockchain technology is just starting in healthcare, but one industry expert believes that it will see rapid adoption as it’s paired with several other technologies—including artificial intelligence, machine learning, mobile health and Internet of Things—to solve long-standing healthcare challenges.

“In the next one or two years, blockchain solutions are expected to have immediate implications for revenue cycle management and claim management vendors,” says Kamaljit Behera, industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, in a new report from the consultancy. “It could potentially replace claims clearinghouses and decrease the need for prior authorization.”

Blockchain is a data structure that “creates trusted, distributed digital ledgers for assets and other data,” he adds. “It is an immutable record of digital events shared peer-to-peer between different parties. It can only be updated by consensus of a majority of the participants in the system and once entered, information is very hard to erase.”

The life sciences and pharmaceutical industries are early adopters of blockchain, but it may not be long until some healthcare IT application developers reconfigure product offerings, enabling more healthcare providers start to adopt the technology, Behera asserts.

Blockchain is not necessarily designed to replace older technologies, but it will provide an additional layer of security and trust to existing applications as well as newer ones. At its core, blockchain offers the potential of a shared platform that decentralizes healthcare interactions, ensuring access control, authenticity and integrity to support value-based care and new reimbursement models, Behera says.

Behera and other technology experts believe that blockchain could first start to make inroads in healthcare by supporting financial transactions among industry participants—these involve relatively simple ledger information exchanges that require high levels of trust and security.

Widespread adoption of blockchain in other areas of healthcare IT will take time, Behera cautions, but he predicts multiple use cases will be developed during the next five years, covering such areas as revenue cycle, supply chain, device security and claims management.

How quickly blockchain can spread will depend, in part, on how long it takes health information technology vendors, particularly those offering electronic health records, to accept the technology and do the work to support it. Over time, industry stakeholders will apply pressure to their vendors, Behera believes. “In the long-term of a 10-year timeline, we can potentially see blockchain applications around bigger healthcare themes, such as data interoperability and cybersecurity.”

Blockchain won’t replace electronic heath records and other information systems, but could replace the middleman in linking systems together, he emphasizes. It may even be possible during this 10-year period to develop identification management for a universal health record of a patient.

Some nations are considerably ahead of the United States in blockchain adoption, according to Behera. Estonia, for example, has secured the healthcare records of 1 million citizens using the blockchain platform of Guardtime, an Estonian supply chain company.

In the U.S., Behera sees the opportunity for cooperation among competing healthcare organizations in a geographic region to cooperate on use of blockchain to ease data exchange. This could include common workflows with a “single source of truth,” eliminating the burden and cost of data reconciliation while supporting outcomes-based care and maybe pooled real-time population health management, he foresees.

Providers that want to promote use of the technology would be best served by establishing blockchain consortia to foster partnerships among trading partners and create standards to deal with disparate terminologies, Behera advises.

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