How The Benefits Of Blockchain Are Revolutionizing The Health Tech Space

News | November 7, 2019 By:

The healthcare system as we know it is flawed and inefficient. The issues that have plagued it for decades, such as arduous administrative duties and the lack of a unified and coherent system of records, continue to plague it today. For an industry that incorporates the work of countless different stakeholders, it is extremely difficult to make even the smallest change to processes. Only a limited impact and improvement has been possible in recent years. With emerging technologies, however, the beginning of change is visible; and while incorporating new technologies into a system rife with issues is certainly no easy task, the resulting benefits for all parties involved are undeniable.

There are a host of issues in the healthcare industry which can be improved through the implementation of blockchain technology, from administrative to medical. Blockchain technology, a distributed ledger system that stores and manages data in a decentralized and secure manner, increases traceability and accountability for transactions that are inputted on the system. In healthcare, blockchain has substantial potential to enhance data security and the accessibility of medical records, bring transparency to financial operations, decrease the complexity of billing cycles, and reduce the amount of administrative friction.  This is a small subset of issues that can be significantly improved simply by introducing this groundbreaking technology.

Financial waste

It is currently estimated that approximately one-third of the total spending on healthcare in the US is wasted, amounting to some $750 billion per year. In comparison, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), inefficient spending in healthcare accounts for only up to one-fifth of health spending in the European Union. The high level of financial expenditure waste in the US healthcare system becomes particularly evident when taken as a percentage of the GDP: in 2017, US spending on healthcare was around 17%, far higher than the 9,6% that the EU spent in 2018.

Financial waste in the healthcare system stems from a large variety of factors, ranging from issues with insurance claims, payments processing, and patient reimbursement, to record-keeping and hospital management. Blockchain, as a distributed ledger technology, offers the possibility for information and data to be stored on a secure platform, in a manner that is easily accessible to those who have (and need) access to it at any stage in a healthcare journey. Financial wastage in the healthcare sector can come in several forms: costly resources are wasted by repeating medical tests, unnecessary or missed visits to the doctor, misadministration of health insurance, and the wasted time spent on any one of these tasks. Employing blockchain technology can greatly simplify and streamline all of these activities and ensure that finances are instead correctly used for direct patient care.

Centralized administration

Inefficient, centralized administration of medical and patient data is another major contributor to much of the spending wastage in the industry. Again, this is where emerging technologies such as blockchain can offer a unique, and immediate, impact. By decentralizing the administrative system in healthcare through the implementation of blockchain technology, the processing of claims, payments, and patient data becomes at once more secure and efficient. Patient medical data that may otherwise be misplaced or damaged is securely stored in a way that makes a person’s medical information more easily accessible for both patients and providers. Blockchain allows medical visits, diagnostics, surgeries, and health records to be incorporated into a continuously updated, yet immutable, comprehensive patient medical history, available for immediate reference by only permissioned parties.

Lack of interoperability and transparency 

Disconnect and lack of communication between the components in the healthcare system can lead to a host of problems for patients along their healthcare journey.  Costs can be incurred through errors in insurance processing, medical tests can be erroneous or delayed, and proper medical or administrative decisions can be hampered. One solution to this is a blockchain-based consent management system. Adding to interoperability without sacrificing security, consent management systems allow patients to decide exactly what information or data about their personal health will be shared in a safe and controlled manner. The choice of with whom the information is shared is also within the patients’ power, whether it be a doctor, parent, spouse, or child. This is a very precise configuration on who can see what, and represents consent at its ultimate level. By offering this system, the burden and cost of error is significantly lightened. As a decentralized ledger, control of and access to data is distributed between members of the network, rather than remaining in the hands of one single entity. The immutable nature of the technology means that once data is stored upon the ledger, it cannot be removed or altered. These features are what ensures that the security and integrity of the data in question is safeguarded while permitting access to be provided to those who require it.

This decentralization of the healthcare system will have the added benefit of increasing interoperability between healthcare organizations and the vast number of stakeholders who operate within them. Patient outcomes can be directly affected by a lack of transparency and coordination in healthcare process. Distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain offer the possibility for data and information to be accessed securely by anyone on a patient’s healthcare journey who requires it and has the requisite clearance. Increased cooperation between stakeholders will not only simplify the healthcare process for patients, but it will also reduce the time and energy doctors spend on many (often unnecessarily repetitious) activities, allowing them to better focus on the quality of patient care. By using a Distributed Ledger Technology such as blockchain, the ease with which a patient’s care can be coordinated will make the experience of healthcare simpler and less stressful for all involved. This increased transparency and interoperability in the coordination of care are one of the most notable impacts that blockchain technology will have, both from a patient’s and doctor’s perspective.

Access to NEMT 

A further element to consider in increasing efficiency within the US healthcare system is the ability of patients to actually arrive at their appointments. Currently, 3.6 million patients in the US miss medical appointments due to a lack of reliable transportation to the hospital or medical facility. This is particularly evident in vulnerable populations who rely on public transport to get to their appointments in an infrastructure which does not always allow for this. Missed appointments lead to delays and issues in delivering timely care to patients, not to mention increased healthcare system costs. Estimates show that billions of dollars of increased spending are incurred due to delays in treatment, all of which could be avoided with the implementation of strong solutions enabling proper access to non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT).

Blockchain technology has a vast array of applications across industries, but few implementations will have the daily and innately human impact that blockchain in healthcare will have. It is evident that the impacts of blockchain on the healthcare system are boundless: including reducing financial waste in healthcare systems by decentralizing administration, increasing transparency and interoperability, and enabling better NEMT for patients, among other benefits. The quality of patient care and the quality of provider relationships will increase significantly once the issues and delays facing healthcare systems are addressed. As healthcare systems continue to grow and expand, only strong, well-considered, and secure healthcare technology can address the problems ingrained within the industry – and blockchain technology is ready to overhaul these.