How blockchain can help improve patient data: 3 key insights

Mike Jacobs, senior distinguished engineer at health IT service provider Optum in Eden Prairie, Minn., discusses the future of blockchain in healthcare and how the technology could impact patient data and health records.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Where is blockchain in healthcare now and how will it develop in 2019?

Mike Jacobs: Today, businesses are experimenting with blockchain to track, trade, find, collect, synchronize and validate data. The key to these efforts is finding ways to drive down costs associated with data management. For example, the Synaptic Health Alliance's first pilot project is tackling the high cost of healthcare provider demographic data management, testing the premise that administrative costs and data quality can be improved by sharing provider data inputs and changes made by different parties across a blockchain. We've made some discoveries that shed light on how blockchain can improve the healthcare system in 2019 and beyond, which we'll discuss in detail during the Alliance's HIMSS 2019 educational session Improving Provider Data Accuracy with Blockchain.

Q:What do you think will be the most significant blockchain applications in healthcare over the next five years?

MJ: Blockchain has the potential to end the stalemate for generating longitudinal health records. There is promise that we could use blockchain to aggregate islands of patient data in single, secure health records that are accessed by providers who have permission. But this is a long-term goal that requires we resolve cultural, business, legal and technical issues around patient data first. When we as an industry have addressed these issues, blockchain may help us assemble every detail related to healthcare for a consumer. The record will reflect if a customer had a tetanus shot at a retail health clinic and the serial number of his knee replacement prosthesis. The goal of LHR with blockchain is to provide a historical and real-time, whole-person view of consumers' health. This will help improve care and give consumers control of their health data. That's a transformational concept.

Q:What do health IT leaders at hospitals and health systems need to know about blockchain today?

MJ: There's a lot of hype and misinformation about what blockchain can and can't do today. Blockchain use cases should be strongly vetted to confirm the return on investment for participating organizations. When health IT professionals strip away blockchain hype and understand its utility for solving problems, they can begin to experiment. I believe payers will take the lead and providers will join them to streamline back-office processes, with consumers following in the long term.

Blockchain in healthcare has unlimited potential and we've only begun to scratch the surface of how blockchain can add value. The more health IT leaders understand about this emerging technology, and the benefits of joining forces with other organizations to leverage it, the more it will deliver.

To participate in future Becker's Q&As, contact Jackie Drees at jdrees@beckershealthcare.com.

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