Blockchains in health care
On Jan. 24, 2019, five major companies (Aetna, Anthem, Health Care Services, IBM, and PNC Bank) “announced a new collaboration to design and create a network using blockchain technology to improve transparency and interoperability in the health care industry.”1 This team of industry leaders is hoping to build the engine that will power the future and impact how health records are created, maintained, and communicated. They’ll achieve this by taking advantage of blockchain’s inclusiveness and decentralization, storing records in a manner that is safe and accessible anywhere a patient seeks care. Because of the redundancy built into blockchains, they can also ensure data integrity. Physicians will benefit from information that is easy to obtain and always accurate; patients will benefit by gaining greater access and ownership of their personal medical records.
The collaboration mentioned above is the latest, but certainly not the first, attempt to exploit the benefits of blockchain for health care. Other major players have already entered the game, and the field is growing quickly. While it’s easy to find their efforts admirable, corporate involvement also means there is money to be saved or made in the space. Chris Ward, head of product for PNC Treasury Management, alluded to this as he commented publicly in the press release: “This collaboration will enable health care–related data and business transactions to occur in way that addresses market demands for transparency and security, while making it easier for the patient, payer, and provider to handle payments. Using this technology, we can remove friction, duplication, and administrative costs that continue to plague the industry.”
Industry executives recognize that interoperability is still the greatest challenge facing the future of health care and are particularly sensitive to the costs of not facing the challenge successfully. Clearly, they see an investment in blockchains as an opportunity to be part of a financially beneficial solution.
Why we should care
As we’ve now covered, there are many advantages of blockchain technology. In fact, we see it as the natural evolution of the patient-centered EHR. Instead of siloed and proprietary information spread across disparate EHRs that can’t communicate, the future of data exchange will be more transparent, yet more secure. Blockchain represents a unique opportunity to democratize the availability of health care information while increasing information quality and lowering costs. It is also shaping up to be the way we’ll exchange sensitive data in the future.
Don’t believe us? Just ask any 9-year-old.
Dr. Notte is a family physician and associate chief medical information officer for Abington (Pa.) Jefferson Health. Follow him on Twitter, @doctornotte. Dr. Skolnik is a professor of family and community medicine at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, and an associate director of the family medicine residency program at Abington Jefferson Health.