Blockchain: A new model for Health Information Exchange

The healthcare industry is a complex system with numerous interconnected entities. With the aim for best-in-class experience in care delivery along with keeping the costs low, healthcare –industry organizations are transforming the mode of operations focusing on ‘patient-centricity’.

Let’s understand the above statement better with help of an example:

Since my friend Emma from Germany who recently visited me for a vacation discussed her abnormal skin allergy, it strengthened my opinions on the need for ‘patient-centricity’. Emma is an avid traveler determined towards her passion of travel makes it a point to explore at least one new location every year, even with her abnormal skin allergy which requires medical assistance at any given time. During her visit to India this year, she faced several challenges visiting multiple physicians, explaining the case history, some understood her some didn’t. There were also instances where she forgot to highlight some childhood medical history.

By now, you must have got the hint, what I mean when I say ‘patient-centricity’. In the traditional view of the patient- centricity though, patient care is the center of attention, the decisions affecting the care service delivery and related data are still controlled by respective care providers (refer to the below diagram)

blockchain in healthcare

The above case highlights some inherent challenges in the traditional healthcare sector:

  • Fragmentation of medical information which is locally stored on individual care provider’s device/system.
  • Lack of global availability of patient data also possesses numerous challenges. Due to the changing and growing requirements from various industry and government constituencies, integrating a secure, robust and seamless solution is yet to materialize.

In the US, the third largest cause of death amongst patients is wrong treatment/medication, so it’s important for medical providers to administer the right medicines for their patients, based on their medical knowledge and historical patient data. Now let us try and map a technology solution to help healthcare-industry organizations overcome the above-mentioned challenges:

  • As per industry statistics like Emma, on an average, every person in the US gets treated by at least 16 doctors, in his/her lifetime, so managing patient’s electronic records is a big challenge. Healthcare practitioners have to abide by an array of medical rules and compliance in order to view/edit the patient records. Till now data solution designers have focused on creating a centralized repository and transmit patient data. What if we now shift the focus from a centralized data repository to a distributed, personalized storage model? Confused! Blockchain technology (Read our blog on Data Provenance and Blockchain to understand the concept better) helps provide the foundation for this distributed, personalized, data-storage solution.
  • Apart from helping overcome the challenges of fragmented information, blockchain can help patients provide a timely access to their data anytime anywhere. How? A system built with blockchain gives a complete, on-demand access to chronologically –arranged data with secure access to patient health data across the distributed ledger. This allows healthcare providers update the information in real-time across the network.

Typical Blockchain workflow in the Healthcare industry:

Blockchain Workflow in Healthcare

So in case of patients like Emma with chronic conditions, blockchain can support the patients with seamless information sharing that would eliminate the duplication, errors, and inconsistencies that arise due to traditional, centralized data storage. The system can also be exposed to a variety of services like mobile applications for diet planning, self-monitoring or home-care monitoring tools that would provide patients with instructions, reinforcements and detailed reports from various healthcare providers in real-time.