Despite limited evidence thus far of blockchain’s potential effectiveness for tasks such as patient data sharing, buzz about the technology in healthcare grows louder every day.
Still, says Jason Goldwater, senior director at health technology consulting firm CedarBridge Group, that shouldn’t deter continued testing of the tool, particularly within the realm of telehealth.
“Does this mean it’s absolutely going to work? I don’t know,” said Goldwater, speaking at the American Telemedicine Association’s annual conference in Chicago on Sunday. “But the time to determine that is now. Telehealth provides the best way.”
Quality in healthcare currently is measured one encounter at a time — at patient visits to the doctor — meaning the care is much more provider-focused, Goldwater said. Blockchain shifts that focus to the patient by collecting their data from all points, including tools such as fitness wearables, and connecting it to the patient rather than to any one organization’s system. It applies an ability to close the gaps in care and provides greater potential to understand patients’ needs, he said.
“It can provide a longitudinal record, so you’re not looking at a patient at a point in time, but rather at everything that’s occurred,” Goldwater said. “That’s better, more actionable information for delivering care.”
Blockchain Could Take Telemedicine Beyond Point-to-Point Care
Goldwater explained that with blockchain, a patient’s data is broken up into hundreds of parts, with each part stored on a hash within a block representing a transaction. “Every time a patient gets new data, the transaction updates a new block,” Goldwater said. “There’s no central storage.”
A patient then can choose to share their data with different providers via an encrypted email with a key to access the information, he said. For providers with whom patients share access, the blockchain creates constantly open, bidirectional communication. He used the example of telemental health, saying that patients can provide more frequent updates on their status, enabling providers to intervene faster if an emergency arises.
“It expands innovation in telehealth because it moves beyond just simply point-to-point care,” Goldwater said.
Blockchain also can expand the way providers treat populations of patients. “We can use blockchain to examine a large amount of data to determine where there are pockets of need and where there are areas of care,” he said. “We can use data within the blockchain for more robust and more detailed analysis, and we can finally become more proactive with care.
“The unique combination of telehealth and blockchain provides a way to expand how we access and use data.”
For more, check out the articles and videos from HealthTech’s coverage of ATA18.