Everything is ready for the widespread adoption of blockchain in healthcare.

While many people associate blockchain technology with the financial industry, I strongly believe that 2022 will be a pivotal year in awareness and adoption in the healthcare industry. Blockchain is being used in the life sciences and healthcare supply chain and we have seen some experimentation, but we have yet to see widespread adoption by healthcare providers and payers. In the coming year, we will see that we now have key components that can accelerate the widespread adoption of blockchain by more healthcare organizations, leading to a more functional system across the country.

One of the keys to wider blockchain adoption is increased pressure from the federal government and the CURES Act. Think about how it took HIPAA over ten years to become a reality. Until it became law, industrial use of X12 as an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) formatting standard never caught on. I think the compatibility requirements of the CURES Act will have a similar trajectory to pass. Blockchain makes nationwide interaction possible by creating a verifiable layer of trust, allowing permissioned access to data (removing the need to share data), and enhancing security through certified verification of all participants. Organizations are beginning to use the power of blockchain to create collaborative processes across a blockchain-enabled nationwide network, and this will accelerate blockchain adoption.

The ongoing pandemic also serves as a driving force; this clearly demonstrated the impact of the lack of interoperability between systems across the country. If there had been a national health technology network at the start of the pandemic, it would have improved what we could do by sharing clinical information more effectively, tracking positivity rates, and distributing PPE and vaccines.

Data aggregation

An additional incentive for blockchain adoption is the development of a nationwide blockchain-enabled medical technology network. I was on both the payer and provider side of the interoperability equation. Payers and providers have their own unique perspective on interoperability issues, but share a strong desire to solve the problem. Both sides are struggling with the construction and maintenance of point-to-point interchanges, which is complex and resource intensive for both sides, and even when these interchanges are built, they rarely go beyond their own independent network. Gathering information means going out and getting every available piece of data and storing it in a central data warehouse where you focus a lot of expensive resources trying to properly attribute and manage that data. Progress has been made in Health Information Exchange (HIE) in some states and regions over the past decade, but there are still inconsistent implementations across the country.

The blockchain-enabled network changes this complex picture by allowing ecosystem actors to exchange the widest set of data with a high level of security and consent. Data federation allows the payer, provider, and patient to access data wherever they are—with the appropriate permissions. The provider can send a request to all participants (providers, payers, HIEs, HINs, etc.) in the national health network, where each patient has a unique identifier with which to match. If the requested data exists and the correct security and consent levels are set, the data is passed directly to the requested entity without the need for a point-to-point connection.

Blockchain is becoming real

Clinical certification is critical in the healthcare industry and is associated with high administrative costs. Payers are currently required to validate and validate the credentials of each individual provider, each with unique national and/or state requirements, as well as line-of-business tagged requirements. On the provider side, the process is just as complicated. Providers must be certified for each hospital, network, or provider group they wish to work for. Once attestation is completed by one subject, the entire process should generally be completely repeated with each additional subject. With blockchain, payers and providers have access to reliable immutable data they can rely on. Consider how we could make recruiting and onboarding clinical staff easier. We can have an electronic secure identity such as an e-wallet for each service provider, making them easy to use immediately anywhere in the healthcare ecosystem.

Right now

I have been privileged to be part of a consortium of forward-thinking organizations dedicated to delivering on promises of interoperability. Sentara Healthcare, Cleveland Clinic, Avaneer Health, Anthem, CVS Aetna, Health Care Services Corp., IBM and PNC Financial Services have teamed up to create an inclusive and secure network based on blockchain, FHIR and other technologies. Together we are changing the paradigm of medical data flows.

I truly believe that 2022 is the year we finally reach the critical mass needed to initiate and commercialize a national health exchange for wider adoption. With a community of these large nationwide payers as well as collaborative providers, we are building the foundation for participation in the healthcare ecosystem. We will be able to use case-specific solutions that will lead to even more innovation and more ways to benefit payers, providers, patients and the market as a whole.

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