Back in March, at the conclusion of the HIMSS17 annual conference, we pointed to blockchain as one of the most noteworthy recent developments in the healthcare IT space. We emphasized that blockchain technology, which uses a distributed database and cryptography to securely manage records and create a permanent record of online transactions, deserves recognition for its potential to increase IT and organizational efficiencies — highly valued attributes in light of Healthcare’s perpetually constrained resources.
An IBM Institute for Business Value study explains that data captured on blockchains can be shared in real time across a scalable group of individuals and institutions. “Every event or transaction is time-stamped and becomes part of a long chain, or permanent record, that can’t be tampered with after the fact,” according to the study report, which finds 16 percent of healthcare organizations ready to commercialize blockchain at scale in 2017.
Where will things go from here?
Room to grow
In practical terms, blockchain could be used in areas such as population health to aggregate patient and financial data that formerly would have been available only from separate sources such as health information exchanges and claims databases.
Further, blockchain’s ability to enable secure and irrevocable data exchange systems would provide “seamless access to historic and real-time data, while eliminating the burden and cost of data reconciliation,” explains Reenita Das, senior vice president of transformational healthcare at research firm Frost & Sullivan.
Micah Winkelspecht, founder and CEO of blockchain start-up Gem, characterizes blockchain as a tool for interoperability — in essence, an open-source protocol layer incorporating rules to which software can be written. “It’s basically like a language that all [participating] companies agree to speak in order to be able to interoperate with each other,” he adds. Unlike the current EHR-centric healthcare system, blockchain would be the “underlying fabric” for the entire continuum of care, “a decentralized, distributed, global data repository that’s basically shared and controlled by everyone,” he envisions.
Related, in the mortgage industry, a similar foundational approach has experts believing in blockchain as an enabling technology empowering lenders to overcome current challenges in electronic processes.
Blockchain would be applied as a thin layer atop an existing document management system to effectively “freeze” a copy of the signed documentation, thereby proving it has never been altered and that the original document resides in its original location. Focus would shift from e-signature tools to blockchain as the core technology structure for compliance and document management — without requiring a completely reworked electronic process.
NetDirector recognizes ongoing and changing security needs in industries such as healthcare and mortgage banking. Companies on the front lines shouldn’t have to rewrite existing integrations or pay multiple vendors in their respective networks to operationalize individual system connections.
Within the healthcare ecosystem, NetDirector’s HealthData Exchange builds on a standard data model to map to HL7 or other data formats and achieve EHR interoperability while removing the bottlenecks of traditional interfacing. Such integrative technology holds the promise of making future security updates and landscape changes far more manageable.