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How is Blockchain Making Electronic Health Records More Accessible?
The primary goal of electronic health records is to make them as accessible and easy to use for both the clinicians maintaining a patient’s care and the patient while still keeping those records as secure as possible. Blockchain technology is now able to merge with healthcare to improve both accessibility and security of these records.
According to Mobile App Daily, blockchain in the healthcare market will reach 829 million by 2023. This patient-centric technology will help improve and manage healthcare. The following information explains how blockchain for health records is accomplishing both accessibility and security.
What are Some Current Problems with Electronic Health Records?
Medium defines Electronic Health Records (EHR) as a systematic collection of electronically stored health information. The information is part of a digital format that can include such items as medical history, lab results, immunization status, and demographics. It may also include personal statistics and billing information.
EHR has the potential to provide medical providers with greater efficiency and organization when storing and obtaining patient records. There are, however, drawbacks to EHR and areas that need improvement.
- Security Concerns – Security and safety concerns for the data are the biggest potential problem with electronic health records. A patient’s personal information is increasingly becoming susceptible to hacking.
- Potential Lawsuits – Every time there is a hack or lost data, a healthcare facility may face substantial lawsuits from individuals and possibly government fines.
- Incorrect Records – According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 20 percent of individuals found mistakes in their medical records. This increases the likelihood of medical errors during treatment.
- Technical Problems – Purchasing and maintaining computers and other necessary technology is not cheap. Internet connections are sometimes difficult to maintain in rural or remote locations.
- Lack of Accessibility – It is sometimes difficult for patients to access their healthcare records. This is due to a variety of factors, including difficulty navigating technical platforms and the fragmentation of information throughout each system.
Blockchain has the ability to reduce the current drawbacks when using electronic health records. Before understanding how blockchain can improve EHR and make the records more accessible, it’s necessary to know exactly how blockchain works.
How Does Blockchain Technology Work?
Blockchain technology secures an interaction, a transaction, or blocks of information using secure cryptography. A block might contain anything from a monetary transaction between two individuals to specific information in a medical facility. The newest block links to all previous blocks of information or transactions and forms a “chain.”
Blockchain technology has the ability to keep records safe and secure while providing easy access to medical professionals who need to use them. According to ResearchGate, one of the primary benefits of using blockchain is the ability to decentralize information. It spreads data across the network instead of at a single centralized point. Journal of Medical Internet Research explains three types of blockchain that a healthcare facility may use:
- Public Blockchain – Access is open to anyone. There is complete decentralization as well as complete transparency.
- Private Blockchain – A single, private institution may use a private blockchain that includes only healthcare records for their own patients.
- Consortium Blockchain – An example of this is a national healthcare record system in which a select number of medical facilities collectively maintain records for their patients.
How Can Blockchain Improve Electronic Health Records?
The blockchain builds over time and may contain patient information from decades earlier. This could include thousands of bits of data from hundreds of visits and medical procedures. Searching through these chains to find the specific information a healthcare professional is looking for may seem impossible. However, developers can create apps that make these types of records easy to use, even on mobile devices.
- Blockchain Protocols are Universal – This means healthcare applications are all compatible without distorting the data. This also enables individuals to take their information with them even if they change doctors or health insurance.
- Blockchain Provides Superior Security – When a hacker breaks into a hospital’s medical records, they have the ability to take data belonging to millions of people. Blockchain protects each data point. This means if someone hacks into an EHR with blockchain technology, the hacker couldn’t find out whose information it was or have the ability to manipulate the data.
- Blockchain Offers Easy Accessibility – The necessary information is available at any time to medical professionals with authorization. Along with easy accessibility, the system makes sure that only users going through a verification process gain access.
How Can Blockchain Specifically Improve Accessibility?
The National Institutes of Health states that blockchain technology can enable patients to control and retain ownership of their own medical records while also allowing easy accessibility for healthcare providers. With a decentralized platform, only those who have the reference to a root chunk will have access. Each root chunk will remain secure in smart contracts throughout the blockchain. A few simple steps to follow make information and data easily accessible through blockchain for health records.
- A healthcare provider stores patient data in an electronic health system. APIs then direct the patient’s data to a blockchain.
- Each bit of information or transaction receives a unique identity within the blockchain. This unique identity is like “a key” that can easily open the information.
- It is then easy for the patient or any healthcare provider who has the key to retrieve the data using the key.
What Do Health Professionals and Business Leaders Need to Know?
Blockchain offers great potential regarding the accessibility and overall improvement of electronic health records. Implementing this technology, however, requires a commitment on the part of healthcare facilities and business leaders. Reaping the most benefits from blockchain in EHR will require a large amount of technical infrastructure.
Science Direct points out a few shortcomings that need addressing before the technology is mainstream. These include potential regulatory issues, inadequate training and technical skills, and installation and maintenance costs. The implementation of blockchain is not something healthcare leaders can make without detailed planning and research. Each organization will need to make the necessary investments in time, training, and resources to make blockchain for health records successful.
Blockchain for health records has great potential for healthcare organizations. While there are still shortcomings, the overall benefits can make electronic health records accurate, secure, and accessible.