Many people are familiar with blockchain as the technology that underlies Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that regularly hits the headlines thanks to its volatile pricing.
However, blockchain has applications that stretch far beyond finance. According to many experts, blockchain could bring revolutionary benefits for healthcare, an industry that currently struggles to manage the huge amounts of data it generates.
What is Blockchain?
A blockchain is a database (or chain) containing many blocks of digital information. Each block can store up to 1 MB of data, along with a code that identifies the owner of the information but does not reveal any sensitive information. Each block also has a hash that distinguishes it from the other blocks, which makes the data much easier to manage and store.
When users connect to the blockchain network, the computer downloads a copy of the blockchain and then updates it automatically whenever someone adds a new block. This process occurs automatically, with no need for a central administrator. It would be very difficult for a hacker to tamper with information stored in the blockchain because so many copies of it are held.
How Healthcare Can Benefit From Blockchain
Blockchain could dramatically improve electronic medical records, making it possible for all healthcare providers to securely access patients' records. Currently, transferring medical records between different systems can be very difficult. Blockchain could even make it possible for patients to choose to share an anonymized form of their records with medical researchers, allowing much larger scale studies to search for new treatments.
Blockchain technology could also be extremely useful for medical claims and billing. By using blockchain, healthcare providers may eventually be able to streamline medical bill processing, leading to higher efficiency and lower costs. Using blockchain could also help to reduce errors in medical billing.
Healthcare Companies Betting on Blockchain
In 2017, the healthcare company Change Healthcare became the first healthcare organization to join the blockchain industry group Hyperledger. The aim of Hyperledger is to develop new applications for blockchain technology in a range of industries, including healthcare. Since then, Change has announced a plan to buy PokitDok, a company that is building a blockchain-based service to improve healthcare transactions. These investments suggest that blockchain is more than just a hyped buzzword for the healthcare sector.
Challenges of Healthcare Innovation
Organizations in the healthcare sector face unique challenges when it comes to adopting new technologies. Healthcare organizations are obligated by HIPAA to follow strict rules regarding the security of patient medical information. In addition, the healthcare sector currently involves a vast network of different hospitals, insurance companies, billing services, and collection agencies, all working together to deliver healthcare to patients. Getting all parts of the industry to work together to adopt a technology like blockchain is not an easy feat, although in this case, it could be very much worthwhile in the long run.
Blockchain technology could bring significant benefits to all industries that need to securely handle large amounts of data, including the healthcare sector. However, there are many challenges involved in getting healthcare providers to work together to implement this kind of new technology. With big healthcare companies such as Change Healthcare betting on blockchain, there is a good chance that blockchain technologies could soon start making a difference in the healthcare industry.
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