How blockchain healthcare is advancing the management of medical records

By Rose de Fremery

| Healthcare

Doctor using a tablet to look at an electronic medical record, protected by blockchain healthcare technology

Bigstock

Blockchain is rapidly transforming and disrupting many industries, including healthcare. Thanks to the unique ability of blockchain healthcare technology to ensure trust and the integrity of critical data, health organizations are able to make major advancements in how they manage patient data and track medical records. As Forbes reports, a recent survey found that 56 percent of healthcare executives plan to implement a commercial blockchain solution by 2020.

Here’s why blockchain is such a game-changer for healthcare — and how organizations are already using it to improve the way they manage medical records:

Blockchain’s opportunities for healthcare innovation

Privacy, especially with respect to medical records, is a top priority in the healthcare industry. For that reason, blockchain poses some impressive opportunities for healthcare innovation.

Perhaps best known as the technology supporting bitcoin cryptocurrency transactions, blockchain is an encrypted ledger of digital transactions — distributed across multiple locations though a peer network — that provides an authoritative audit trail of events that have taken place. Each entry to a blockchain ledger is irreversible, tamper-proof and transparently shared among authorized parties.

Blockchain technology provides an underlying architecture of trust that is well-suited for the purpose of unifying medical records. In fact, blockchain could enable the creation of a shared database of health information — open to physicians and healthcare organizations regardless of the system they used — that would greatly facilitate the process of sharing information while still ensuring the security, integrity and confidentiality of patient data.

With streamlined access to that data, physicians could more efficiently deliver timely medical care to their patients, and research on new treatments and cures could proceed with far greater speed than in the past. In some cases, this is already happening.

Blockchain healthcare enhances medical records management

One prototype solution for blockchain is already available. MedRec, a system developed by MIT graduates, tackles the problem of unifying electronic health records (EHR) head on. It aims to give patients access to their complete medical history across all providers they have visited — a task that, as most patients in the US healthcare system know well, is vexingly difficult to accomplish under the current fragmented system of disparate and disconnected legacy medical databases.

By contrast, as Harvard Business Review notes, any healthcare professional can access a patient’s entire medical history using a blockchain-based solution such as MedRec since it integrates with their existing local data storage solutions.

This technological advancement eliminates the common challenges of duplicate data, confusion and wasted time spent searching for health information. As a result, a patient can ensure that any provider they consult has access to comprehensive, up-to-date records on their medical history.

While this is a considerable enhancement from a productivity standpoint, it could also make the difference in a life-threatening situation when timely access to key medical information is of the essence. Given that healthcare organizations still frequently share such data using fax machines, it’s clear that a centralized, secure ledger could greatly improve health outcomes in many cases.

Should a patient wish to grant researchers access to their medical records, they can opt in to that component of MedRec as well. With the benefit of such anonymized data, medical researchers can access a large volume of valuable medical records that could greatly accelerate the speed at which they can develop new drugs, treatments and even cures for a host of health conditions.

Blockchain and unified electronic health records

Estonia currently boasts an impressive example of how blockchain might be used to support unified health records at the national level. The Estonian eHealth Foundation is partnering with Guardtime to enable providers with more comprehensive and secure access to electronic health records for one million Estonian citizens. This initiative syncs up perfectly with the Estonian government’s broader endeavor to transform the Baltic nation into a digital society.

As the New Yorker reports, this e-Estonia project aims to provide Estonian citizens with single, unified credentials that they can use to vote, dispute parking tickets and access health services. As a result, Estonians no longer have to fill out complicated medical forms at each appointment since their physicians can simply call up their digital records.

Paramedics can also access the same medical information on devices using a mobile e-ambulance app, showing up to a hospital fully briefed on a patient’s medical history so they can deliver the best care possible. They can use the same mobile app to pre-register the patient with the hospital so that all the relevant tests and procedures are ready to go upon their arrival there.

Estonians explicitly own their personal records, and thanks to the blockchain audit trail, they can see precisely who has accessed them and when. In this way, they are able to enjoy the enhanced user experience that technological innovation offers while also exercising greater control over their personal information. This is particularly beneficial in the context of sensitive medical records. Given that Estonia only began to pursue digitization in earnest around 2002, this is a positive example of how a country can radically improve its healthcare services from the ground up in a short span of time.

Blockchain’s versatility can improve healthcare outcomes

Since blockchain is so versatile and can be applied to a multitude of use cases, the world has only had a small glimpse of how it could potentially revolutionize the way healthcare providers serve patients. Unifying electronic health records is just the start.

One thing is clear: Healthcare organizations are poised to deliver a higher standard of care while greatly optimizing their internal efficiency thanks to innovative blockchain-based healthcare solutions.

Written By

Rose de Fremery

Writer

Rose de Fremery is a New York-based writer. She currently covers business IT topics such as technology innovation, mobile strategy, unified communications, CRM and marketing automation, IT management, and the virtual workforce for HP, Intel, Vonage, and IBM Mobile Business Insights.…

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