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2018 Likely to Determine Success of Blockchain in Healthcare

Blockchain in healthcare emerged in 2017, but subject matter experts are divided on how successful the technology will for the industry in 2018.

blockchain in healthcare

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- There was significant growth in blockchain in healthcare this year as the healthcare industry continues to seek out ways to end interoperability issues that have plagued the industry for years.

Hyperledger released a blog post looking back on how distributed ledger technology served as a transformative tool over the past year and helped healthcare organizations consider a different way of exchanging and sharing data.

One of the significant blockchain milestones pointed out was the release of the first healthcare blockchain solution by Change Healthcare.

Change Healthcare released The Change Healthcare Intelligent Healthcare Network in collaboration with the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project. Hyperledger is an open source project that works with many vendors and organizations to build blockchain standards.

The solution uses Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 framework for its application design and development. Change Healthcare will also continue to contribute code back to the open source community so other healthcare organizations can improve their blockchain applications.

Healthcare organizations are interested in blockchain to coordinate workflows that involve several different parties. Blockchain could be the answer data exchange among providers, payers, and patients, according to Hyperledger Executive Director Brian Behlendorf.

“Adoption of blockchain technologies will be driven organizations basing their development on providing better quality care much the same way the regional health information exchange concept kicked off digital health data-sharing. In some jurisdictions data exchange worked pretty well,” Behlendorf told HITInfrastructure.com in a previous interview. “The problem was it did create silos or islands of data that can hopefully be avoided with blockchain.”

Hyperledger hopes to see the demand for blockchain developers to rise as more organizations express interest in the technology. In anticipation of this demand, the organization launched an online training course to introduce developers to blockchain for business.

In 2018 Hyperledger expects more progress to be made.

“The will industry get a lot more serious about interoperability above the layer of the DLT, and look for simple and open cross-blockchain approaches and our projects will explore integration and interoperability with each other even further, allowing a greater number of options to be available to developers,” the blog post stated.

While interest in healthcare blockchain is growing, there are potential hang ups that may stop healthcare blockchain in its tracks. Blockchain organizations and vendors are working to make the technology applicable to healthcare, but industry experts are still divided on if blockchain is the right fit for certain parts of heath IT infrastructure.

One of the biggest potential downfalls is the fact that patients may not want to be in control of their records, according to VMware Senior Healthcare Strategist Chris Logan.

“The healthcare organization is just a holder for that data, we don’t own it,” Logan explained. “At the end of the day ownership is back on the patient to request that information or store the information as they see fit. From a compliance perspective including certain mandates healthcare providers have to conform to, this is where blockchain falls a little flat.”

“People don’t want to own their records and that has been proven time and time again if you think about the personal health records that were available to people many years ago,” he continued. “How many people actually took advantage of it?”

Logan argues that the lack of a national patient identifier makes blockchain useless for EHR blockchain solutions to be successful.

Blockchain has a lot of room for growth in 2018, and the healthcare industry will figure out of they will be able to successfully apply blockchain to their organizations. The first healthcare organizations will be testing their blockchain solutions in 2018 and the industry will get a better understanding if blockchain has a future in healthcare. 

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