Blockchain promises to radically improve data sharing in healthcare and support the fight against COVID-19.
If healthcare is ever going to emerge from the quagmire it currently inhabits, it needs to change on a fundamental level. For years, excitable tech gurus have discussed the potential benefits of digital innovation in the sector. Yet, healthcare remains bloated and behind the curve compared to cutting-edge industries. With the advent of COVID-19, that needs to change more urgently than ever.
Some experts believe that blockchain is needed to finally deliver real progress in the sector and respond to the current crisis. The technology gives practitioners solutions to longstanding problems concerning the use of patient data, improving interoperability. Organizations on the data side believe it will ultimately improve patient care and help fight current and future pandemics.
Technology has always promised to deliver improvements in healthcare, but rarely to the extent that people hoped. If the sector is ever going to improve, it needs to find ways to make better use of patient health information. Unfortunately, today’s electronic health records are inefficient and cumbersome. Furthermore, data protection laws make it challenging to transfer data from clinicians to managers, third-party practices, and researchers, slowing the pace of progress.
For these reasons, clinicians are very interested in blockchain. The technology promises an entirely new model for health information exchanges – one that serves security, compliance, and practical needs.
Interoperability – the ability of professionals in the medical sector to come together and work cooperatively with patient data – sounds good in theory. If it worked properly, it would allow the industry to fully leverage patient data, track individual cases of COVID-19 across space and time, and develop better predictive models. But making it work in practice isn’t straightforward. Systems need to provide a secure infrastructure for sharing files, representing patient data consistently and accurately, and verifying the identity of all participants. But until recently, such things didn’t exist.
Now, though, BurstIQ – a company that provides an advanced blockchain platform for medical practitioners – believes it might have a solution. Its Research Foundry claims to have solved the fundamental historical challenges that prevented the healthcare industry from adopting blockchain in the past and says that it now supports large, complex and disparate data through its platform while maintaining high-security levels.
Cybersecurity expert and Co-Founder of BurstIQ, Brian Jackson opined on how blockchain Blockchain technology is impacting healthcare in 2020. He said, “Blockchain is opening the door to secure access to a very fragmented and siloed system. It’s providing seamless, and efficient ways of sharing data, processing claims, enhancing medical research and improving efficiencies that support better health outcomes for patients.”
The ramifications of these advancements are staggering, especially in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Old interoperability issues, such as difficulties identifying patients with coronavirus, need no longer apply. These new blockchain services build so-called “immutable longitudinal profiles” of patients, eliminating the mismatch problems of EHR records of the past. Managers can also determine access using permission-based, revocable data sharing, deciding who can access which files and when and both trust and verify the permissions they grant – satisfying HIPAA and GDPR security requirements.
The hope is that new blockchain-based data systems will shift focus from compliance towards teasing out information from data and using it to improve patient care. With the proper application of blockchain at the architectural level, healthcare organizations will be better able to standardize their processes, share information with other clinics, and create predictive models describing the burden on their resources after COVID-19.
Currently, blockchain applications to COVID-19 include tracking infectious disease outbreaks, tracking donations to make sure they go where they are needed most, and securing medical supply chains.