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HIMSS Advises Layered Approach to Healthcare Blockchain

The HIMSS Blockchain Work Group suggests that organizations integrate healthcare blockchain into their IT infrastructure in phases to ensure success.

healthcare blockchain

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare blockchain is expected to grow in the coming year and organizations are challenged with integrating blockchain into their health IT infrastructure.

The HIMSS Blockchain Workgroup released part two of its healthcare blockchain blog, advising organizations on how to approach blockchain and what it will most likely be used for in healthcare.

The blog continues off the previous blockchain blog by mentioning the HIMSS Blockchain Workgroup. The workgroup was tasked back in 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.

HIMSS was also presented a more organized layered approach to healthcare blockchain adoption to help organizations better understand exactly how blockchain will roll out in healthcare. The work group members explained that healthcare blockchain implementation and utilization can be best described as being in different layers.

Currently, most healthcare organizations are in Layer 0, according to the work group. The majority of healthcare data is stored in centralized data silos with limited opportunity to share data. Layer 0 has untapped potential to improve care and reduce healthcare costs by sharing data in a targeted and secure way, according to HIMSS. Organizations will aim to build their blockchain solution to Layer 4.

Layer 1 enables secure sharing of health data across B2B networks. This allows organizations to share data with targeted networks across their blockchain ecosystem. Layer 1’s B2B limitations means that the security of trusted organizations is still in place but the actual exchange of data goes more smoothly.

Layer 2 introduces smart contracts to increase automation to improve efficiency of transactions. This layer introduces executable code that can better automate processing. The smart contracts will allow the code to be executed on the blockchain directly, taking it outside the confines of the healthcare organization’s enterprise systems.

Healthcare blockchain Layer 3 adds cryptocurrencies and tokens to enable new commerce and incentive systems.

“Cryptocurrencies and tokens may make sense for some healthcare blockchain use cases and enable new commerce and incentive systems,” the work group explained. “For example, patients may earn cryptocurrency or tokens by participating in clinical research studies using blockchain, and redeem this value to help offset their healthcare costs.”

The final layer, Layer 4, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to reduce costs and improve care. Sharing data among different healthcare organizations such as scans and other medical images can be shared securely via blockchain and examined by artificial intelligence. Clinicians will have access to more information faster resulting in increased accuracy in diagnoses at the point of care and less return visits.

HIMSS Blockchain Work Group members also discussed a checklist entities should consult before moving through the layers of blockchain implementation.

The checklist includes making sure performance, including throughput and scalability, can realistically support blockchain. Organizations also need to identify the types of data they will be storing in the blockchain and decide on a public, private, on-premises, or cloud-based architecture.

The blockchain system also must integrate with existing enterprise systems and be tested thoroughly before being put to use.

Organizations are increasingly interested in healthcare blockchain. With the technology so new, entities need to be strict about following guidelines to ensure they implement blockchain systems correctly and securely into their health IT infrastructure.

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