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Blockchain may be the next great thing in healthcare — or not

by John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent | July 08, 2019
Health IT

“What if we could move the application [credentialing] to the data instead of moving the data to the application?” he said.

As an example, he said that it would no longer be necessary to fill out pages of forms when visiting a new doctor. The doctors' offices could tap into a blockchain and load the data in their system in seconds. Blockchain, he stated, can improve the lives of clinicians, but also patients, by giving them control of their information.

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The final speaker, Dr. Woojin Kim, chief medical information officer, Nuance Communication, also extolled the potential of blockchain. He echoed many of the benefits discussed by the other panel members. However, he advocated that when blockchain comes to health care, it should start on a limited basis to address a specific problem. For example, citing Sitka’s credentialing inefficiency, he noted that a hospital loses about $7,000 a day in revenue for each day of delay in a doctor’s credentialing. Blockchain could be the right solution.

“As much as I love technology, there are always considerations and ... challenges,” he said.

The main challenges he spoke about were not so much technology but culturally rooted in health care. While radiology, he reminded the audience, is at the forefront of technology in medicine, the reality is that hospitals and other providers don't like sharing data. The real issue, he said, is that without interoperability, blockchain doesn't matter. The electronic health system is designed to support the billing function, not data sharing. Blockchain also has other differences, such a long passwords that are too long to commit to memory. And there is uncertainty if blockchain meets current HIPAA privacy regulations.

In response to an HCBN question about a timeline for blockchain adoption in health care, none of the panel members would commit to a specific time frame. Cram believes it might happen sooner than later, driven by consumer demand. Sitka, on the other hand, felt that, as with all systemic changes in healthcare delivery, the change would come when regulatory agencies clearly mandated blockchain adoption.

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