The Potential Of Blockchain Technology To Address Healthcare’s Biggest Challenges
Kali Durgampudi is the chief technology officer at Zelis, a leading payments company in healthcare.
Hospital cybersecurity breaches hit an all-time high in 2021, with 45 million individuals affected by healthcare cyberattacks, up from 34 million in 2020. The number of cyberattacks against healthcare organizations has tripled since 2018, a pattern that has been replicated across the healthcare ecosystem. Attacks against health plans increased by 35% from 2020 to 2021, and attacks on third-party vendors increased by 18% during the same time frame.
This pattern shows no signs of slowing down in 2022. In April of this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a warning about a ransomware group targeting the healthcare ecosystem. The implications of these attacks can have a variety of consequences, ranging from the shutdown of hospital operations and the diversion of nonemergency patients to a loss of confidentiality, exposure of patient data and information, and infrastructure damage.
One technology that has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare industry and address these security needs is blockchain.
What Is Blockchain?
Blockchain is a secure technology that tracks transactions. It essentially serves as a digital ledger that encrypts information, or “blocks” of data, which are chained together to create a single source of truth. Since the information is widely distributed and cannot be modified or copied, blockchain technology reduces security risks and could revolutionize industries such as finance and healthcare.
Why Blockchain Has The Potential To Revolutionize Healthcare
Faster processes: In an industry where faxing is still a popular method to share information and paper checks are predominately used for payment among insurance companies, hospitals and patients, blockchain offers a much faster alternative. Cutting out archaic and paper-based systems in favor of electronic methods, blockchain would provide the same speed of transactions available in other industries, in a secure and traceable fashion.
Secure transactions: As technology continues to advance, and hospital processes become more modern and less paper-oriented, cyberattacks will only increase. Hospitals, insurance providers and healthcare IT organizations need to become more secure to protect the privacy of themselves and their patients. Since blockchain technology is decentralized and widely distributed, it is much more difficult to corrupt and provides a stronger line of defense to protect patient information, claims transactions and more.
Traceability and reliability: Many healthcare executives prefer not to exchange important information over email because there is no proof of receipt, and emails could mistakenly end up in a spam folder or get stuck in an outbox. To combat this, blockchain technology provides proof of delivery, receipt and opening to ensure traceable and reliable communication and eliminate barriers to transactions. Once something is sent, it cannot be rescinded or taken back due to the blockchain’s distribution network, which reflects changes in real time.
Barriers To Adoption
There are two major barriers preventing blockchain technology from becoming widely implemented by hospitals and healthcare organizations. The first is that healthcare is notoriously slow to adopt new technology. Not only would it require the healthcare industry to change its operating processes and infrastructure, but individual healthcare organizations would need to adopt it as well. Making the switch to implementing blockchain would be a significant step for an industry that has continued to struggle with exchanging information electronically and using disparate IT systems.
The other notable consideration is there is no vendor healthcare organizations can “buy” blockchain from. It is a completely new technology and requires an infrastructure to be built from the ground up. Payment applications and APIs need to be developed that will use blockchain technology, and once it’s more user-friendly, it can be adopted more widely.
The Future Of Blockchain
Traditionally associated with bitcoin or cryptocurrency, there are a lot of misconceptions about what blockchain is and how it works. While it may seem daunting, blockchain technology has tremendous potential to transform the healthcare industry by providing increased security, transparency and integrity. Although widespread adoption of blockchain in healthcare is likely years away, it is exciting to discuss the potential the technology presents. In the meantime, CTOs and other technology leaders should continue to monitor the development and advancement of blockchain since it will likely become a bigger consideration for organizations in the future.