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Healthcare Blockchain Standards Support Collaborative Development

Healthcare blockchain standards like Hyperledger and Ethereum help developers create blockchain solutions based on tried and supported methods.

healthcare blockchain standards

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare blockchain is gaining traction as health IT vendors and provider organizations look to the technology to decentralize data exchange to provide improved data protection. Understanding the healthcare blockchain standards being used in healthcare is key to developing a successful way to exchange data.

The success of blockchain in healthcare depends on a standardized approach so data can be exchanged seamlessly among organizations. Coordinating workflows is a large part of the intent with blockchain so coordinating development with like-minded healthcare organizations and health IT vendors will help the industry as a whole develop a standard for secure data exchange.

Hyperledger was the first health IT project to add healthcare organizations to its collaborative project. Change Healthcare was the first health IT vendor to join the project, followed by Ehave and CareiQ.

“Blockchain is a promising and exciting new technology for secure online transactions,” Change Healthcare CTO Aaron Symanski said in a statement. “But it's crucial that healthcare leaders step up to champion innovation to help take blockchain from its early implementations to tomorrow's healthcare IT solutions.”

Blockchain in healthcare is being built from the ground up and many organizations have their hands in developing the technology with the intent of producing a standard for better data exchange. This open source collaboration from a standard like Hyperledger can give healthcare organizations a similar starting point for developing blockchain technology.

READ MORE: Considerations for Planning Healthcare Blockchain Adoption

Hyperledger Executive Director Brian Behlendorf believes that blockchain can be developed by taking advantage of the healthcare standards community including FHIR and HL7.

While the standards are being developed, organizations that are interested in using healthcare blockchain should consider participating in the development of the technology through open source communities.

“Many of the health IT organizations I’ve met in the past realize that they are fundamentally a technology company and they can’t sit around and wait for IT vendors to deliver perfect finished solutions to them,” Behlendorf told HITInfrastructure.com. “They need to be more proactive in understanding where emerging technologies have an impact on their industry and putting aside a small chunk of the money they spend on IT into developing capabilities and skills.”

Hyperledger has healthcare organizations involved in their blockchain development, including Kaiser Permanente and Change Healthcare. These healthcare organizations are highly involved in figuring out what they need to do to fully support a healthcare blockchain solution.

Being involved in the development process will also help organizations prepare for how the blockchain solution is going to impact their IT infrastructure.

READ MORE: Blockchain, Edge Decentralized Options for HIT Infrastructure

“These things take time, especially if an entity is suggesting that blockchain can be a system that replaces a system of records that they might otherwise use for management of patient records,” he continued. “There will be a barrier to getting to some organizations like Epic or Cerner to adopt blockchain technology. They believe control over that data is essential and their picture of integration is sharing records with other clinics who are also running they’re software because Epic to Epic or Cerner to Cerner is not a hard thing to do.”

Healthcare organizations are in the midst of figuring out how to best navigate healthcare blockchain and HIMSS has developed a workgroup that releases information advising organizations on how approach blockchain adoption. The HIMSS Blockchain Workgroup is a valuable resource because it provides a place for developers to access thought leadership and best practices and even share their own ideas and experiences developing healthcare blockchain.

The workgroup was tasked last August with examining how increased prevalence of application programing interfaces (APIs) access data and how blockchain affects health data security. The workgroup has been developing use cases on the potential of blockchain in healthcare over the past several months, discovering where in healthcare it can realistically be used.

 “As activities have matured, and the work group has expanded incrementally to better represent the many categories of healthcare stakeholders, the work group has and will continue to conduct iterative reviews and alignment of our goals to refine HIMSS’s short-term strategy for blockchain and distributed ledger technology, and provide our members with the resources they need to assess this technology’s application in the healthcare setting,” wrote the work group members.

The group has even released a structured framework of layers organizations can follow as they organizations can build up to as they develop their healthcare blockchain strategy and plan for long-term success.

Source: HIMSS Healthcare Blockchain Workgroup

Even though the technology is still new, developers don’t have to rely on trial and error to build out their blockchain solution. Understanding the frameworks that are being used like Hyperledger and Ethereum, and joining supportive workgroups to give and take advise will health the healthcare industry as a whole take on blockchain much more quickly.

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