Omid Shabestari, Director of Health Analytics at Carilion Clinic
Blockchain is one of the most talked-about digital technologies in recent years. Similar to other trending technologies, work continues in earnest to apply it in different industries, including healthcare.
Blockchain has been offered as a solution to enhance security and interoperability of information for Health Information Exchange (HIE) systems. This would enable healthcare organizations to share patient information – a goal that has not yet been successfully achieved. Systems such as Google Health tried to facilitate this interoperability through a centralized repository, whereas this new model is aiming for a distributed approach. The intent is to ensure healthcare systems can share information while maintaining the control and ownership of it.
Similar to other business models, blockchain will be affected by the balance between supply and demand. It is essential to consider what the incentives would be for healthcare systems to join this technology. Is the proposed value of accessing patient information from other systems persuasive enough for healthcare systems to invest in this technology? Will blockchain in the proposed setting leverage all potentials of this solution, or will it have a limited use? Are there any other useful applications in healthcare? Blockchain’s features deserve a closer look.
Some of the main features of blockchain are peer-to-peer communication, distributed data processing, security through cryptography, and add-only consensus-based validation.
Blockchain can potentially cross-connect different cutting-edge technologies in a single system, but the main driver for its success will be the selection of the correct market and proper cases for its widest and most valuable use
Considering these features, blockchain technology is suitable for a use case of a collaborative content generation with a high degree of uncertainty. Although business-to-business solutions in healthcare provide opportunities to collaborate, a limited number of them may not fully utilize blockchain’s capacities. In addition, data provided by healthcare systems are expected to be highly reliable with limited need for consensus-based validation.
However, there is another healthcare data application that could leverage most blockchain features. In recent years, databases have grown to include information from wearable sensors and IoT devices. Although these sensors are reasonably sensitive, there are situational factors that cause their readings to differ from similar information collected at the point of care. For example, blood pressure measured through wearable sensors used at any time is different from clinical care settings in which patients are typically at rest. Additionally, many personal wearable devices, such as glucometers, force patients to manually key their information into databases, increasing the risk of inaccuracies due to user error.
These conditions and the advancement in noise detection algorithms for data stream processing provide the opportunity for a new line of business that can sit atop these data flows, and to some degree, fulfil automation of census-based validation.
An additional factor that can encourage patient engagement is federated ownership of their data. If this solution is based outside healthcare systems, patients can own their data and monetize it by sharing with interested groups such as the pharmaceutical industry or research groups. Otherwise, there would be few incentives and could suffer the same fate of other Internet-based health data repositories. From the perspective of investors in information technology, while return on investment would be swifter and could provide larger yields if healthcare systems become the primary customers, there may be less demand from those organizations and more unmet needs outside of them.
Blockchain can potentially cross-connect different cutting-edge technologies in a single system, but the main driver for its success will be the selection of the correct market and proper cases for its widest and most valuable use.