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Making blockchain work for health care

By Dr. Shahram Ebadollahi
From the February 2018 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine

As we look forward in 2018 to the next wave of technological advances that will impact health care, it’s hard to ignore the word on every health care technologist’s tongue – blockchain.

Like “big data” before it and “the cloud” before that, the term is grabbing the attention of most health care audiences as a critical peak in the wave of the future for making health data more fluid and valuable for a variety of health care stakeholders.

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While the implications of blockchain as they relate to the meteoric rise of Bitcoin prices are well known, its potential impact to propel innovation within the health care industry is only just beginning to reveal itself.

Many of the intrinsic properties of blockchain technology — such as transparency, security and authenticity — are well suited to help address some of health care’s most pressing challenges with respect to the data exchange process. Here, we will explore three key benefits that blockchain can bring to health care.

Patient consent and health data access
As we all know, health data is exploding with the growth of EHRs, wearables, advanced imaging capabilities and genomics research. According to IDC’s Data Age 2025 report, hypercritical data – of which health information is a major component – is growing at an astonishing 54 percent compound annual growth rate. So, while the reality of “big” data finally benefiting our health care system is upon us, the fact is that “long,” or longitudinal, data is not. In other words, the different pieces of patient data lack fluidity and are sitting in silos, unable to be easily shared and collectively interpreted for the patient’s benefit. For example, a patient could go to one facility for imaging and another for blood work, yet none of the results are shared or available to one another, which results in tremendous waste.

Giving patients the opportunity to share their data securely, for research purposes or across their health care providers, creates opportunities for major advancements in health care. With blockchain, the massive amount of siloed patient data being generated and captured every day could be shared across a group of individuals and institutions. Using the blockchain framework in this way could be a critical enabler for making a truly fluid health information system possible – allowing patients (or consumers) to be the true owner of the data and in charge of providing consent for the exchange and use of it by various entities. To date, the top-down model for data sharing among institutions hasn’t worked and has encountered many challenges in adoption, not necessarily from a technological standpoint, but with ownership and reluctance to share the data by various entities. Creating the capabilities to access data based on an owner’s consent, and aggregating it into a truly longitudinal view of the patient, may be able to unlock many possibilities for a new set of services. This is already a reality in certain parts of the world – most notably Estonia. In addition, certain regions like Europe with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are advancing new ways of properly regulating models of consent for consumers.
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