Blockchain Buzz Is Only Growing Louder in Healthcare

Industry executives should pay attention to the emerging technology’s potential uses, including securing and better managing supply chains.

It was impossible to ignore the growing buzz around blockchain at HIMSS 2018 in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Several education sessions were dedicated to explaining both what blockchain is and why healthcare executives must pay attention to its ascension. The distributed ledger technology has been touted as having potential in the industry regarding both information exchange and cybersecurity.

So, what are experts saying?

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Blockchain Promises Improved Supply Chain Management

In one presentation, Maria Palombini of the IEEE Standards Association, Health Linkages CEO Robert Barkovich and Tim Mackey, an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego and director of the Global Health Policy Institute, discussed several aspects of blockchain technology. In particular, they talked about how a blockchain allows for users to agree on history. It enables data provenance, they said, which makes management of pharmaceutical and medical device supply chains promising use cases.

That, for instance, could ensure the integrity of a supply chain against fake, falsified or substandard medications.

The presenters also shared that blockchain can enable patient matching and monitoring and validate information, making the verification of research data easier. In addition, the technology can ensure tamper-proof logs on medical devices.

How CIOs Can Make Digital Ledger Tech a Reality

At the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives Fall CIO Forum in November, Don Tapscott, co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute, touted blockchain as a technology that could “reinvent healthcare.” He provided five recommendations for how health IT executives can dip their toes into blockchain use, telling CIOs in attendance, for instance, to tap technologies on the market that relate to bitcoin to get a better feel for what the technology is and how it’s being used in other walks of life.

Tapscott also suggested that CIOs seek out those within their organizations who are interested in bitcoin.

“Somebody has been on the side buying bitcoin for the last six years,” he said. “Chances are they already have some expertise.”

Ambitious Efforts Move Blockchain to the Forefront

Last fall, IBM Watson Health reached an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the potential benefits of blockchain for the healthcare industry. The ambitious effort came on the heels of a similar announcement in January 2017 in which IBM Watson Health said it will work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to research the secure exchange of healthcare data via blockchain.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has also explored the role of blockchain in the industry, announcing in August 2016 15 winners of its “Use of Blockchain in Health IT and Health-Related Research” challenge. Steven Posnack, director of the Office of Standards and Technology at ONC, told HealthTech last year that blockchain “seems like it’s on the three-to-five-year horizon” as far as when the industry might start to see implementation and production at scale.

A little more than a year later, the conversation only continues to grow louder. I’m excited to see how it will evolve in the months and years ahead.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.

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Apr 04 2018