Blockchain for Healthcare Management

IBM is building a blockchain network for healthcare to provide more visbility for patients into how their information is stored and used. (Image Credit: IBM)

Status Quo Healthcare Markets without Blockchain

There is a fundamental question we need all ask ourselves: why should we care about our health data? To the average consumer, this may not be something you think about on a day-to-day basis.

But, when we look at healthcare in the current market, our patient information is distributed across multiple private practice, hospital, and government databases. Let us look at something as simple as receiving a Covid-19 vaccine as an example. When you receive your vaccine, the nurse who administered your vaccine will update your Covid-19 vaccine card. Many states have also opted for electronic updates to this information. Unfortunately, because these databases operate independently of other health entities, you need to separately update your primary care physician or other healthcare providers separately outside the state electronic updates, making the system less useful that it can be.

Additionally, while electronic health records are protected under HIPAA compliance in the United States and similar compliances in many developed nations, there is very little visibility into how this information is stored and who it is shared with as part of administration work. Much of your health information is also shared with insurance providers, but you have very little visibility into how they use this information to determine your premiums.

The actual problems in the status quo for healthcare marketplaces are:

  • Decentralized databases for all health information in various silos that provide no visibility for patients as to how their information is being used.
  • Security risks with data storage have been made incredibly apparent in recent years with hackers breaking into various hospital records and stealing patient information. One of the bigger hacks was the 2019 AMCA data breach which affected 5 million patients in the United States.
  • Our privacy is at risk at all times. Without being too political, many state entities such as China use broad tactics for tracking spread of Covid-19 from the countries of origin or new outbreaks, which means that they are not just monitoring their own citizens for spread, but citizens of other countries as well.
  • We cannot monetize our health data ourselves. A great example of this can be seen in the use of Henrietta Lacks’s cancer cells to proliferate new cancer treatments. Her cells were harvested for treatments after she passed on, and neither she nor her family were compensated or recognized for her sacrifice.
  • Millions of dollars in lobbying from insurance companies prevents individuals from having a stake in the healthcare marketplace.

These problems highlight the inequality and lack of respect healthcare marketplaces truly have for patients within the current ecosystem.

How can Blockchain be used in a Patient-Centric Model?

If we as a society are willing to transition to a self-sovereign system where we own our patientcare information, it would be a great application for blockchain technology.

First, tokenizing our health information using public/private keys means that only us as individuals are responsible for what information is shared with healthcare and insurance providers.

Second, using identity tokens for health information enables us to improve contact tracing and monitoring without the need for centralizing information into database silos. In 2018, Canada’s UHN launched a partnership with IBM to utilize peer-to-peer networking to build an informed consent model for sharing patient records. This same model has applications for contact tracing in the status quo when we look at the spread of Covid-19 and understanding rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths per country or region as more individuals receive vaccines.

Third, patient-centric tokens allow for improved individual responsibility for insurance rates. In a model centered around patients as opposed to hospitals, patients have the right to choose what information is shared with insurance companies. While insurance companies have the right to provide better rates to individuals willing to share more of their NFT-based health records, the burden falls on patients to provide the signals they feel comfortable sharing as opposed to these signals being publically available and shared among insurance companies.

While there are all these benefits to a blockchain model, the main emphasis is on you as the patient deriving value from your body’s digital health information as an asset. You have the right to share what information you wish to. That being said, it is important to note that your digital identity is separate from your personal identity, and this model is solely being used to govern your health records, not other facets of your life.

Even if we do not directly implement a blockchain model for securing health data, what really matters is making a shift to some patient-centric model of electronic health records. Ownership of personal health information should be a right, not just a privilege, as we move to digitize electronic health records.

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