New IT trends are usually equal parts exciting and confusing. Today, that generalization describes blockchain technology perfectly. It’s a complex concept that has the potential to totally revolutionize every industry — including healthcare. Even if you have no plan to invest in blockchain soon, you need to understand what it is.
What is blockchain?
Although the technology was first associated with Bitcoin and other digital currencies, blockchain is not exclusive to the financial sector. To grasp why blockchain is such a game changer, there are three basic components you need to understand:
- Blocks: essentially these are just encrypted information or documents. In the case of Bitcoin it was transaction histories, but in healthcare this could be something like test results.
- Chains: by linking every block to the one that preceded it with an encrypted address, chains are created that add complexity and make data harder to counterfeit. For example, one set of test results would be much easier to forge than an entire patient history.
- Decentralized networks: each time a block is added to the chain, that information is distributed to a vast network of computers. Each computer in the network has its own copy of the chain, which means if one computer tries to alter previous blocks in the chain, others can compare it with their local copies and recognize it as a fake.
In the financial industry, blockchain technology means transactions and account balances no longer need to be validated by a centralized authority, like banks. One person can transfer money to another because each computer in the network can examine the chain to confirm he or she has the funds, and add a block logging the transfer and updating both account balances.
The record of a transaction can’t be altered unless the security of every computer in the network was compromised simultaneously. That level of data security and integrity is perfect for reducing costs in the healthcare industry.
Blockchain technology in healthcare
Even as providers shift from paper documents to digital files, data loss continues to be one of the biggest problems in the industry. According to CRICO Strategies, miscommunication causes $1.7 billion in damage and results in as many as 2,000 lost lives. Test results get lost, records aren’t properly updated, and care settings are misunderstood; whatever form miscommunication takes, it’s losing your practice money.
For now, there are three main benefits of blockchain technology in the healthcare sector:
- Medical histories and records can be stored in a secure chain that patients have full control over. If a primary care physician needs to see a diagnosis the patient received from a specialist, it can be viewed as soon as the patient provides authorization.
- Payments between banks, government entities, providers and patients can all be coordinated in a fraction of the time and without costly intermediaries.
- Healthcare equipment usage, depreciation and lifecycles can be automatically tracked in a chain to keep better tabs on the status of expensive and fragile fixtures.
The past few years have been tough on the healthcare industry. Ransomware has taken a toll on data security, and providers are relying on costly solutions to keep up with the exponential growth in digital records. Blockchain technology is poised to take care of both problems in one fell swoop.
Adopting new technology is intimidating, especially in a heavily regulated industry where data security is so important. We’re starting to see blockchain-based healthcare startups pop up, but before you can embrace this shift, you need a full-time team to manage the integrity of your files. To find out how we can protect you today and prepare you for tomorrow, give us a call.