Aegis Compliance & Ethics Center, LLP
Blockchain Technology Improving Patient Information Security
Blockchain continues to show potential in becoming the next technological innovation in healthcare. Blockchain provides an ideal medium for optimizing continuous and secure access to patient databases in real-time for providers and patients alike. According to a report from the IBM Institute for Business Value, the greatest blockchain benefits expected across time, cost, and risk areas include: clinical trial records, medical health records and regulatory compliance. Understanding the benefits and improvements that the technology will provide for data security, transparency and overall quality across the healthcare continuum allows for collaboration between regulators and institutions to adapt to the changes in the underlying infrastructure of the healthcare industry.
To many, the term ‘blockchain’ may bring the cryptocurrency Bitcoin to mind. However, blockchain is simply the underlying technology platform from which the cryptocurrency derives and the seemingly endless applications of this technology span many industries, not just financial services. Unlike current data storage methods, the blockchain database is not stored in one single location, rather it is a shared ledger of secure, digitally signed transactions maintained by a decentralized network of computers (nodes) over the internet. Each transaction and addition of information to the chain is verified and recorded by each node involved in performing the algorithms for that chain. This process eloquently maintains the security and integrity of the data (this established audit trail is unprecedented from a regulatory compliance standpoint). Blockchain self-audits as each transaction on the network is reconciled every ten minutes to ensure nobody can modify the data. The fundamental characteristics of this technology lay in its immutability and hack-resistance, which fits nicely in the context of managing private health information and patient medical/financial data.
IBM identified the top three information ‘frictions’ that hold healthcare organizations back, limit growth, and constrain innovation: imperfect information, information risks, and inaccessible information. Blockchain has the power to eliminate these frictions, optimizing institution performance and growth. This technology can capture the entire history of an individual’s health and create a permanent record which institutions can easily share among themselves, thus optimizing coordination and collaboration. Blockchain users can set permissions for a specific block of data with privacy and accessibility agreements developed to determine the parties allowed to view transactions on the chains. As a result, the interoperability challenges resulting from disconnected provider electronic medical record (EMR) systems dissipate and the exchange and accessibility of information becomes seamless. Removing the intermediaries involved in data sharing that currently take place lessens costs, delays and human error.
MedRec, an application prototype designed by MIT Media Lab, presents one example of a design that can integrate with providers’ existing data storage systems, offering a single, common interface for controlling the exchange of highly sensitive medical data. Experts believe that integration with existing infrastructure eases adoption, lowers integration costs, and aids in HIPAA compliance efforts.
Current clinical research trials involve a multitude of complications, including but not limited to, incorrect or selective data reporting, patient retention issues and low regulatory oversight. Blockchain technology gives medical researchers and health organizations a wealth of reliable, unidentified medical data, which can help lower research costs and efficiently recruit patients for clinical trials.
Ultimately, blockchain presents a tech safeguard to compliance and healthcare initiatives. The ability to self-audit and protect sensitive patient data in an automated fashion displays the revolutionary results blockchain can produce. Most importantly, patients and their providers benefit from the overall transparency of amassed medical history and smooth transaction that this technology allows.