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Interest in Healthcare Blockchain Increases for Interoperability

Healthcare blockchain shows promise for EHR interoperability as interest in the technology continues to grow.

Healthcare blockchain for interoperability

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Organizations are increasingly aware of healthcare blockchain and are actively looking into deploying the technology, according to a recent Black Book Survey.

Researchers polled 88 healthcare payers and 276 providers, technology executives, managers and IT specialists. Nineteen percent of hospital executives and 76 percent of surveyed payers are in the process of or are considering deploying some kind of blockchain solution.

Healthcare IT executives have a better understanding of blockchain, the survey showed. The potential security benefits also make blockchain appealing for organizations, prompting them to take an interest in the technology over the last quarter.

"Executive blockchain education has shifted from Blockchain 101 to selecting the appropriate healthcare blockchain technology protocols," Black Book Managing Partner Doug Brown said in a statement.    

The majority of respondents said that blockchain shows promise for healthcare interoperability. Ninety percent of medical group managers and IT specialists agreed that blockchain may solve most of healthcare’s interoperability concerns, including connectivity, data privacy, and patient record sharing.

Blockchain can potentially allow organizations to exchange data from provider to provider despite using different EHRs.

"The most popular connectivity strategy circulating among health care technologists, and even ONC, is blockchain technology," said Brown. "The lack of technical standards for this still-immature technology is causing regulatory uncertainty while the industry anticipates explanations from federal rules at some point in 2018.”

The report also predicted that healthcare blockchain integrations will increase significantly by 2019. Fourteen percent of payer respondents are currently involved with trial blockchain deployments while 98 percent of responding payers with over 500,000 members are actively considering blockchain.

Seventy percent of all payer organizations polled expect blockchain to be integrated into their health IT infrastructure by 2019. However, only 9 percent of providers have plans to integrate blockchain by 2018.

Blockchain shows promise in healthcare but it is not a current reality in health IT infrastructure. The unknown cost of healthcare blockchain caused 88 percent of providers from committing to an integration and deployment deadline.

Hyperledger Executive Director Brian Belendorf spoke positively of healthcare blockchain for interoperability in a previous interview with HITInfrastructure.com.

Behlendorf believes blockchain can take advantage of the healthcare standards community including FHIR and HL7 to contribute to building a mechanism to keep track of a discovery process. Records relating to a patient will be accessible to all parties involved to attest to the truthfulness and accuracy of the data.

However, he added that the successful implementation of healthcare blockchain will take time and that healthcare organizations need to participate in development for blockchain to be successful. 

“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,” Behlendorf said. “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.”

The first healthcare blockchain solution was just announced late last month. Change Healthcare released The Change Healthcare Intelligent Healthcare Network in collaboration with the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project. This solution is expected to be deployed at scale by the end of 2017.

“We are excited to work alongside our customers and partners to make blockchain real in healthcare,” Change Healthcare CEO Neil de Crescenzo said in a statement.

“As today’s healthcare system becomes more value-based, it’s essential that we aggressively and pervasively introduce new technologies into healthcare at scale—whether they leverage blockchain, artificial intelligence, or other emerging capabilities with the potential to improve outcomes and efficiencies,” he continued. “We are initially introducing blockchain technology to create a distributed ledger that makes claims processing and secure payment transactions work more efficiently and cost effectively for all healthcare stakeholders.”

Blockchain has potential in healthcare, but organizations need to be prepared for the changes it will bring to their infrastructure. The concept is still new, but the potential benefits are enough for IT decision-makers to seriously consider it for the future of interoperability.