How blockchain will affect healthcare in the next 5 years

Leland Brewster, strategic investing director at healthcare advisory services firm Healthbox in Chicago, discusses the use of blockchain to put patients in control of their own data as well as his predictions on the technology's imminent shifting area of focus in healthcare. 

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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

Leland Brewster: Blockchain technology has generated considerable buzz in the healthcare industry, and much of the emphasis to date has been on patient data — trying to help patients to better access, monetize, share and/or control it. Placing patients in control of their own data is an important goal that should be pursued.

The challenge, however, with these approaches is the information asymmetries. For example, the company buying a patient's genetic data in a blockchain-powered marketplace likely has far more insight into its value than the patient selling it, and these issues will become more apparent over time. I don't expect patient-centric blockchain-powered initiatives to disappear in 2019, but I do expect enterprise-focused initiatives to see greater traction.

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

LB: The emphasis will shift to addressing infrastructure and operational challenges rather than the storage or exchange of patient data. Any data placed on a blockchain ledger will remain there in perpetuity; it cannot be deleted. That fact does not square well with an industry rife with privacy and security regulations. For the near term, it makes most sense to start by tackling problems that don't involve protected health information. An area like supply chain presents a more obvious opportunity in an industry as risk-averse as healthcare. Within the next five years, I expect we'll see blockchain make a significant contribution to activities such as equipment and asset sharing or drug provenance tracking and auditing, among others.

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

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