Insurers might use blockchain technology to enable instantaneous verification and interoperability of healthcare records, which could impact clinical laboratory payment systems

Medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups are keenly aware that connected, secure, interoperable health records are critical to smooth, efficient workflows. However, the current often dysfunctional state of health information technology (HIT) in America’s healthcare system often disrupts the security and functionality of information exchange between hospital and ancillary practice patient record systems.

One solution to this could be blockchain technology. With its big data and abundant touchpoints (typically: insurer, laboratory, physician, hospital, and home care), the healthcare industry could be ripe for blockchain information exchanges. Blockchain might enable secure and trusted linkage of payer, provider, and patient data. But what exactly is blockchain technology and how might it impact your laboratory?

Blockchains Could Transform Healthcare

Blockchain refers to a decentralized and distributed ledger that enables the interface of computer servers for the purpose of making, tracking, and storing linked transactions.

“At its core, blockchain is a distributed system recording and storing transaction records. More specifically, blockchain is a shared, immutable record of peer-to-peer transactions built from linked transaction blocks and stored in a digital ledger,” explained risk-management group Deloitte in a report, which goes on to state:

  • “Blockchain technology has the potential to transform healthcare, placing the patient at the center of the healthcare ecosystem and increasing the security, privacy, and interoperability of health data. This technology could provide a new model for health information exchanges (HIE) by making electronic medical records more efficient, disintermediated, and secure.
  • “Blockchain relies on established cryptographic techniques to allow each participant in a network to interact (e.g., store, exchange, and view information), without pre-existing trust between the parties.
  • “In a blockchain system, there is no central authority; instead, transaction records are stored and distributed across all network participants. Interactions with the blockchain become known to all participants and require verification by the network before information is added, enabling trustless collaboration between network participants while recording an immutable audit trail of all interactions.”

Key principles of blockchain (above) demonstrate the decentralization of the healthcare data. In some ways, this resembles electronic health record (EHR) systems that feature federated databases, rather than centralized databases. (Image copyright: Deloitte.)

Instant Verifications and Authorizations at Point-of-Care

In a Healthcare Finance News (HFN) article, insurers acknowledged blockchain’s potential for information verification and authorizations in real-time, fast payments, and access to patient databases that could fulfill population health goals.

“Everybody that is part of a transaction has access to the network. There’s no need for an intermediary. Blockchain allows for verification instantly,” noted Chris Kay, JD, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at Humana, in the HFN article.

At clinical laboratories, blockchain could enable nearly instantaneous verification of a patient’s health insurance at time of service. Blockchain also could enable doctors to review a patient’s medical laboratory test results in real-time, even when multiple labs are involved in a person’s care.

“Everyone has to have a node on the blockchain and have a server linked to the blockchain. The servers are the ones talking to one another,” explained Kay. “What’s really transformative about this is it takes the friction out of the system. If I see a doctor, the doctor knows what insurance I have because it’s on the network. All this is verified through underlying security software.”

Healthcare Obstacles to Overcome

Breaking down data silos and loosening proprietary holds on information can help healthcare providers prepare for blockchain. However, in our highly regulated industry, blockchain is at least five years away, according to blockchain experts in a Healthcare IT News (HIT News) article.

“We’re hearing that blockchain is going to revolutionize the way we interact with and store data. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow. Let’s find smaller problems we can solve as a starting point—projects that don’t have the regulatory hurdles—and then take baby steps that don’t require breaking down all the walls,” advised Joe Guagliardo, JD, Intellectual Property/Technology Attorney and Chair of the Blockchain Technology Group at Pepper Hamilton, a Philadelphia-based law firm, in the HIT News article.

Healthcoin: Rewarding Patients for Improved Biomarkers

One company has already started to work with blockchain in healthcare. Healthcoin is a blockchain-based platform aimed at prevention of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The idea is for employers, insurers, and others to use Healthcoin (now in pre-launch) to reward people based on biomarker improvements shown in medical laboratory tests.

Healthcoin’s Chief Executive Officer Diego Espinosa and Chief Operating Officer Nick Gogerty, founded the company in 2016 after Espinosa, who had been diagnosed with diabetes, made diet changes to reverse it, according to an article in Bitcoin Magazine.

“When I saw my blood labs, the idea for Healthcoin was born—shifting the focus of prevention to ‘moving the needle’ on biomarkers, as opposed to just measuring steps,” Espinosa told Bitcoin Magazine.

Blockchain Provides Security

What does blockchain provide that isn’t available through other existing technologies?  According to Deloitte, it’s security and trust.

“Today’s health records are typically stored within a single provider system. With blockchain, providers could either select which information to upload to a shared blockchain when a patient event occurs, or continuously upload to the blockchain,” Deloitte notes. “Blockchain’s security and ability to establish trust between entities are the reasons why it can help solve the interoperability problem better than today’s existing technologies.”

Should Clinical Laboratories Prepare for Blockchain?

It’s important to note that insurers are contemplating blockchain and making relevant plans and strategies. Dark Daily believes the potential exists for blockchain technology to both disrupt existing business relationships, including those requiring access to patient test data, and to create new opportunities to leverage patient test data in real-time that could generate new revenue sources for labs. Thus, to ensure smooth payments, medical laboratory managers and pathology group stakeholders should explore blockchain’s value to their practices.

—Donna Marie Pocius

 

Related Information:

Blockchain Opportunities for Health Care: A New Model for Health Information Exchanges

Blockchain Will Link Payer, Provider, Patient Data Like Never Before

Old Ways of Thinking Won’t Work for Blockchain, Experts Say

Blockchain-Styled Solutions for Healthcare on the Rise

Can Blockchain Give Healthcare Payers Better Analytical Insight?

Blockchain in Health and Life Insurance: Turning a Buzzword into a Breakthrough

Does Blockchain Have a Place in Healthcare?