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Staff Experience, Standards Impact Healthcare Blockchain Adoption

Healthcare blockchain may be slow to catch on due to the technology being so different from other legacy health IT infrastructure solutions.

healthcare blockchain

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare blockchain is creating a lot of industry buzz and several solutions have been released this year. Blockchain development and implementation are quickly gaining momentum, but the technology may not be a standard part of health IT infrastructure as soon as predicted.

A recent Gartner survey polled CIOs from across all industries, including healthcare, and revealed that only 1 percent of CIOs indicated that they have already invested and deployed blockchain. Compared to how much the technology is talked about, 1 percent is an extremely minimal adoption rate.

In addition to the low adoption rate, 77 percent of CIOs surveyed reported that they have no plan to introduce blockchain into their IT infrastructure or have no plan to observe or develop the technology.

"This year’s Gartner CIO Survey provides factual evidence about the massively hyped state of blockchain adoption and deployment," Gartner Vice President David Furlonger said in a statement. "It is critical to understand what blockchain is and what it is capable of today, compared to how it will transform companies, industries and society tomorrow." 

Rushing into a blockchain investment or a blockchain deployment was the biggest cited fear, the survey found. Blockchain functions differently than other legacy solutions and takes training existing staff or hiring new experts to deploy and maintain blockchain tools. Organizations are not willing to risk money and resources on a technology that they aren’t sure they actually need.

READ MORE: What Does Blockchain Mean for Health IT Infrastructure?

Twenty-three percent of CIOs said that blockchain requires the most new skills to implement of any technology area, and 18 percent said that staff with blockchain skills is difficult to find.

Another 14 percent stated that blockchain requires a significant change in IT department culture and 13 percent said that their IT department would have to change to accommodate blockchain.

"The challenge for CIOs is not just finding and retaining qualified engineers, but finding enough to accommodate growth in resources as blockchain developments grow," said Furlonger. "Qualified engineers may be cautious due to the historically libertarian and maverick nature of the blockchain developer community." 

"Blockchain technology requires understanding of, at a fundamental level, aspects of security, law, value exchange, decentralized governance, process and commercial architectures," he continued. "It therefore implies that traditional lines of business and organization silos can no longer operate under their historical structures." 

Healthcare blockchain implementation is following the path of past healthcare IT technologies. Similar to cloud and virtualization, blockchain is not expected to be fast-tracked into health IT infrastructure.

READ MORE: Why Blockchain May Not Be the Solution to EHR Interoperability

Current healthcare blockchain deployments are focused on provider payment transactions. While the technology looks promising for data exchange and interoperability, there are no widespread use cases for that kind of blockchain implementation yet.

There is also the question of the healthcare industry’s readiness for blockchain. One of the biggest potential uses for blockchain in healthcare is to put patients in control of their own EHRs. This use of blockchain depends on the patient’s willingness to be in control of the EHR.

Patients becoming the center of their own care and controlling how their EHRs are distributed only works if the patients are willing to use the EHR tools provided to them, according to VMware Senior Healthcare Strategist Chris Logan.

“The healthcare organization is just a holder for patient data, we don’t own it,” Logan explained to HITInfrastructure.com in a previous interview. “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?”

READ MORE: Open Source Blockchain Development Critical to Standardization

Logan expressed that the lack of a national patient identifier also prevents blockchain from being an effective strategy for EHRs. He indicated that lacking a national patient identifier may negate the decentralized security aspect of blockchain. If a patient walks into a healthcare organization with her EHR, but can’t be identified, than the investment in blockchain becomes a waste.

In theory, blockchain has many potential uses in healthcare but until they are fully developed, the technology can’t be widely adopted across the industry. Organizations need to consider blockchain for their future IT infrastructure developments while developing a realistic timeline.

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