Until a couple of years ago, “blockchain” was a buzzword in financial circles, especially regarding cryptocurrencies. But that’s no longer the case—blockchain technology is set to disrupt major industries such as healthcare, legal, education, banking, real estate, data security, and even the government.
The blockchain is expected to completely redesign the DNA of healthcare delivery systems in the coming years. The global blockchain market for healthcare is forecast to rise to $1.4 billion by 2024, from $34.5 million in 2017. The U.S. is expected to see rapid growth in the near future as it is one of the most highly developed markets for this technology.
But small medical practice owners like you must be wondering about blockchain’s significance to your business. Or asking questions such as: What’s the need for this technology? How will it impact practices in 2019 and beyond? What are its potential uses?
Before long, though, small practices will be choosing blockchain to deliver on patients’ growing demands for integrated patient care delivery and end-to-end healthcare management.
That’s why you should closely follow any new blockchain capabilities and case studies in healthcare. This will help you start preparing an adoption and implementation plan for 2019 and beyond.
Here, we’re looking at why blockchain is the future of healthcare, how it will impact the industry and how you can use the technology to your benefit. But first, let’s find out what blockchain looks like in the healthcare industry.
What is blockchain in healthcare?
Blockchain is a distributed networked system that creates transactions or data records that can be shared and exchanged between stakeholders such as physicians, doctors, pharmacies and insurance providers. The information stored on a blockchain remains absolutely safe and secure in its entirety.
In simpler terms, it’s like Google Docs, where various stakeholders or users always see the same up-to-date document in real time. However, blockchain technology is a bit more sophisticated.
Note that blockchain is not an alternative technology to replace your medical or electronic health records (EHR) software. On the other hand, blockchain will support your EHR system by providing better data security, data access, and information exchange.
How will blockchain impact small practices?
Data breaches don’t just affect large healthcare providers but small practices and other organizations as well. Therefore, protecting patient data from hackers is a big challenge for all types of healthcare providers.
Blockchain aims to solve the challenges of maintaining data security and accessing data in real time. It can significantly transform the working of small healthcare practices with the following benefits:
1. Greater data security: Small practices are prone to patient data loss during data transfer to and from EHR systems. In 2017, nearly 5.6 million patient records were affected in the U.S. as the result of 477 healthcare data breaches.
Blockchain technology addresses this challenge because it doesn’t require a third party for transferring patient data from one location to another. Whenever a stakeholder makes an update to a data record, all other stakeholders are notified in real time. This way, blockchain ensures the accuracy and security of all data transactions at all times.
2. Real-time access to patient data: The ability to access patient data in real time improves patient care significantly. But EHRs don’t usually have this feature. The stakeholders (i.e., physicians, doctors, pharmacies and insurance providers) update the data on their own time and convenience, which delays updates for others.
However, blockchain technology would ensure that all stakeholders are notified in real time. Whenever anyone makes an update, it’s automatically reflected, and can be accessed, in everyone’s system in real time.
How can small practices use blockchain?
In addition to solving data security and real-time data access issues, blockchain technology can improve the daily operations of small practices.
Let’s look at a few ways in which small practices can leverage this technology:
1. Faster decision-making
As blockchain will be a common database for patient data, it’ll provide a greater level of trust for all stakeholders because of the real-time data change updates. Small practices can leverage the authenticity of the data to make better and quicker data-driven decisions.
2. Faster insurance claims processing
One of the most critical processes in healthcare is to accurately calculate insurance claims and identify fraudulent claims. Small practices can use a smart contract (i.e., a computer protocol to verify and enforce the negotiation of a contract) as evidence of a patient’s visit and upload it to the blockchain. This way, all the other stakeholders can view the contract in real time, identify the transaction and reimburse the claim amount quickly.
3. Real-time patient data analysis
As blockchain technology enhances patient data storage, access, updates and sharing in real time, small practices can analyze patient data in real time—using EHR tools—for quicker diagnoses. They’ll also be able to identify patients’ health trends and gain insights about future health conditions with these tools.
Blockchain: A Bright Future for Small Practices
Small healthcare practices have to start accepting that blockchain is the future of healthcare. To prepare for this future, you start identifying elements of your practice’s daily operations that would benefit the most from blockchain technology. This will make it easier to smoothly implement the technology when it’s the right time for adoption.
In addition, small practices should be aware of what other healthcare providers are doing around blockchain (via forums, news stories or communities). Engage with your peers who are working with blockchain technology in some way. Understand their implementation processes or the areas they improved by using blockchain.