Blockchain. It’s one of the biggest buzzwords in the Health IT industry today—and no wonder, because it seems to be an extremely promising technology, one that we've been keeping our eyes on for a few years now. Still, as cool as it seems, we have a long way to go. That’s why in this pair of blogs, we’re going to look closely first at the possibilities, and then at the hazards, that go hand in hand with this exciting trend.
– Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)
Blockchain is essentially a ledger of transactions that is distributed across a large group of computers, creating a decentralized, verified, immutable record of information. It is considered secure enough that it is being implemented in financial and homeland security applications as well as many other industries. As John Lynn from Healthcare IT Today emphasized on a recent podcast devoted to the topic, blockchain is often used interchangeably with Bitcoin, but although Bitcoin was the first major application of blockchain, they are not the same thing.
Here are a few of the things we’re most excited about as this technology continues to take hold.
Promise: enormous possibility.
One of the most buzzworthy things about blockchain is that we are extremely early on the curve of what’s possible with it, and it could end up going in so many exciting directions. In July, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) announced the “Use of Blockchain in Health IT and Health-Related Research” challenge, which sought new ideas for blockchain applications in Health IT. The ONC received over 70 submissions and announced 15 winning whitepapers with topics that described disruptive uses of the technology ranging from clinical database redesigns, to predictive modeling security, to facilitating alternative payment models. And this is just the beginning, a mere hint of the true scope of potential applications.
Promise: significant investment and new use cases.
It is interesting that the U.S. government is providing incentives in this direction, and it’s also clear that major organizations are taking notice. According to a recent Deloitte survey, almost 75% of C-suite executives saw a “compelling business case” for blockchain, and about one third said that some form of blockchain was already being used at their organization, while 41% said they planned to rollout a blockchain application over the next 12 months. About 63% said they plan to invest over $1m in blockchain over the next calendar year.
The Deloitte survey seems optimistic about the future of blockchain in healthcare, writing: “Our survey seems to make clear this evolving landscape of pragmatism and maturation—more varied use cases and applications than last year, across a greater variety of sectors. Respondents show a more balanced view of expectations and concerns than last year, pointing to an increasingly practical sensibility. And indeed, what appears to be happening every day in the real world also appears to confirm what our survey is telling us: A day hardly seems to pass in which we do not read about new blockchain use cases or new ways to tokenize assets.”
Promise: better use of data.
“The Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved into a potential source of a great deal of data that is appealing in a number of ways. One of the winning whitepapers in the ONC challenge, from The National Quality Forum (NQF), explores combining the Internet of Things (IoT) with blockchain technology for Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs). As that paper states, the data we can gather provides the opportunity to develop measures using this data and circumvents issues with the current tools such as users not completing the data needed for evaluation and tracking.
Healthmonix is in discussion with a couple of our partners who work in the chronic care management space to work towards collecting this data on an ongoing basis for measurement. It’s exciting, in that it opens up many possibilities in terms of longitudinal tracking, earlier detection of treatable conditions, and better feedback loops with patients. We are hopeful that once it matures, blockchain will provide enormous potential for improving data collection and usability in these and many other ways.
Having said that, though, blockchain isn’t necessarily the utopian solution it may seem to be. In next week’s blog, Counterpoint: The Perils of Blockchain, we’ll cover some of the most important points to be wary of as this technology continues to mature. In the meantime, subscribe to The Healthmonix Advisor for your connection to the pulse of the Healthcare Quality Improvement industry. We take the latest news and proposed rules and interpret them into something actionable.