How hospitals should approach blockchain integration from Dell Medical School's co-chief of data integration

Mackenzie Garrity - Print  | 

Hospital and health system executives vary in their knowledge and implementation of blockchain. Some are using it to track prescriptions while others are unsure how the technology works.

Anjum Khurshid, MD, PhD, the co-chief of data integration for population health at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, is exploring ways for blockchain to be integrated into healthcare.

He is leading Dell Medical School's partnership with the Austin Blockchain Collective, which aims to analyze the use of blockchain technology to positively affect health and healthcare outcomes for patients.

Here, Dr. Khurshid explains how hospitals and health systems should approach blockchain as well as the technology's potential.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length. If interested in doing a Q&A, please email Mackenzie Garrity at

Question: What work are you doing to bring blockchain to healthcare?

Dr. Anjum Khurshid: We see blockchain as a technology that is evolving rapidly and a technology that has the promise to address some of the challenges that we encounter when sharing and using health information. Some of the key healthcare areas in which we think blockchain technology can be integrated into relate to patients controlling their information. Within healthcare, and other sectors, blockchain adds another level of security for patients and providers. Additionally, the distribution nature of blockchain technology makes it appealing in healthcare for providers to more easily share data. In healthcare, one of the challenges is the siloed nature of health data, as collecting comprehensive data on a single patient can be very costly and difficult.

Our engagement in thinking about applications of blockchain in healthcare centers around solving the industry's challenges not just for the sake of applying a new technology but to improve provider and patient experiences.

Q: Are there areas where the technology cannot be integrated?

AK: The three main challenges with applying blockchain in healthcare regulatory compliance, privacy concerns and education of staff.

One of the biggest challenges for blockchain integration in healthcare is the aspect of people and processes and not so much the technology. In fact, we did a pilot study last year that aimed at applying blockchain technology to help identity management among homeless populations. One of the key challenges we ran into, besides obviously educating users and organizations about blockchain, was that we needed to change business processes for organizations to benefit from blockchain. This came from organizations needing to understand where information was stored on the blockchain as well as if the blockchain complied with regulations. Altering processes and training staff was a much harder task than building the blockchain.

Q: Where should hospitals with no blockchain experience get started?

AK: There is a lot going on in the blockchain area. The development is happening in two fields. One is on the technical side, where in the past few years we have seen blockchain expand from the financial and technology industry into the social and health sectors.

For healthcare organizations looking to integrate blockchain, leaders need to understand how blockchain technology can address their challenges. Additionally, executives should learn from other implementations.

The promise of blockchain is great; however, its implementation, specifically because of the regulatory environment, is limited. It is important for hospitals that want to jump into this area be informed and look at other examples before they commit. The technology itself is exciting and can help solve some chronic problems in healthcare, but there are still many questions around compliance.

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