If there was an award for biggest buzzword, right now it would be given to blockchain. From bitcoin to voting procedures, blockchain promises to revolutionize every industry under the sun. This includes one of the costliest and most important industries that affects everyone - health care.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first, though. Who really understands blockchain? Apart from a few tech geeks, entrepreneurs and finance enthusiasts, the concept is not yet well grasped by the public at large.
Definition: Blockchain is first and foremost a database system that stores information in a way where it cannot be hacked, traced or changed, at least not without considerable effort and difficulty.
Here’s an over-simplified example: right now, if you search for trips to the Bahamas, you'll suddenly start seeing ads on other, unrelated websites for trips to the Bahamas. That’s because the information was stored in a central location and was shared with a third-party, including the data that traced the information back to you and your search. Clear your browser cookies and cache and it goes away. Blockchain, however, does not store the data in one place, but in multiple, decentralized locations. The data is still accessible to the third party and they can track how it changes over time, but it’s no longer traceable to you and you cannot clear its history of events, but only add new information (or blocks) to the record (or chain).
Although the blockchain data storage system was first used to keep track of cryptocurrency, its supreme capacity for security and reliability means that the future applications extend well beyond its original intended use. Health care is in a position to benefit most of all.
Blockchain has the capacity to not only maintain greater accuracy in health care records, but it could also ensure the accuracy of the record is maintain across different healthcare providers. This can be great for those with an extensive and complicated medical history and the need to visits many types of specialists with varying opinions, or with people who need medical care in a foreign country and a language barrier could easily result in a life-threatening misdiagnosis. Although the technology might result in doctors over relying on the existing record or missing new symptoms, the benefits of a completely accurate and accessible medical history far outweigh the risk that may emerge in a small sector of medical providers.
One of the greatest advancements in modern healthcare is the ability to pool big data to look for statistical patterns that will contribute to medical advancements. It’s important to remember that this doesn’t just mean cures but extends into existing factors such as which medicines are most likely to be effective given factors such as age, race, sex and preexisting conditions. By pooling the data, the biotech industry will be able to get a clearer sense of which treatments are working, which ones aren’t, and most importantly, why certain patterns in treatment effectiveness have emerged. And it can be done without compromising the privacy of the patient, as the data can be preserved with complete accuracy without being traced back to any single individual.
Currently, health care expenditures are so fragmented and vast that each year, providers spend billions of dollars chasing payments, correcting billing errors, or combatting billing fraud. By implementing blockchain in health care financial tracking systems, patients and providers alike will be able to gain a greater sense of trust in the accuracy of their cost of care. This has the ability to build trust whilst reducing financial disputes and the time it takes to correct them. By eliminating the financial complications, the time between doctor and patient can be focused more on the health care itself, and less on whether or not someone might get a second heart attack if they’re the victim of billing error or fraud.
The future of blockchain in the health care industry is speculative, but it could become a reality very soon. One of the greatest hurdles is that most people still associate blockchain with bitcoin and cryptocurrency, but it’s real main benefit is that it establishes a level of trust in information that has never existed before…and therefore a level of trust between the parties that rely on that information that has also never existed before. It’s hard to think of an industry that could benefit from blockchain more than health care. The only question is what will it take for them to adopt the technology?