The importance of the proper storage and sharing of medical data can never be overstated. With the rise of electronic technology, many medical data have moved onto electronic health records (EHRs) instead of paper records. Still, there are clear issues with properly sharing and managing that data while maintaining significant patient privacy concerns. EHR blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize the way that medical data is stored, streamlining the process and making it more accurate and better protected.
What are the benefits of EHR for health data?
Until recently, all healthcare records were stored on paper, but more and more healthcare providers are moving on to fully electronic methods of storing health data. This has brought about a wide variety of benefits. Most importantly, it allows for greater ease in sharing information between different providers about patients’ medical history and ongoing care. In addition, it is far easier to update an EHR than it is to copy a letter and send it to another healthcare provider, and it takes much less time.
This helps to ensure that patients’ health information is accurate and up to date. This helps to ensure that patients are receiving the correct prescriptions and that every one of their healthcare providers is aware of issues such as allergies and much more. When all healthcare providers can instantly access patients’ records, they are much better able to give patients the efficient and accurate care they need.
From the healthcare providers’ point of view, EHRs can help improve work/life balance by freeing them from doing so much paperwork, including duplicating paperwork. This can also help to improve their productivity and allow them to dedicate more time to helping patients.
What are the issues associated with EHR?
There is no doubt that EHRs are here to stay. They are far and above more efficient and accurate than using paper records. With that being said, EHRs in their current form have their issues. One of the main problems is the incompatibility between the systems used by different healthcare providers. While, on the surface, it should be easy to use a centralized system with each healthcare provider inputting and updating data from their end, in practice, this can be more difficult than it seems to achieve. When different healthcare providers use different systems, this can mean that the data doesn’t automatically translate between them, which results in much more time spent manually updating records.
Privacy concerns are also a significant issue for EHRs. The sanctity of patients’ healthcare information has to take absolute priority, which is why acts such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) were enacted. This amounts to very clear and demonstrable actions to keep them secure with paper records. For example, locks on filing cabinets, a sign-in/sign-out system, etc. With EHRs, the situation gets a little more complicated. There are risks from hackers that aren’t as obvious as breaking in through a locked door, and ensuring that the data is secure at all times can be difficult to guarantee.
How blockchain can change EHR
We are in a position where there is an inevitable move towards EHRs, and the benefits of using them over paper records are clear. Still, we are also becoming increasingly aware of the pitfalls of using the system as it is. Blockchain technology could provide the ideal solution to balance these two needs in a simple and sophisticated way.
If you have heard of blockchain, it is likely in the context of cryptocurrency, but you may not realize that it can be implemented in a variety of different settings. Blockchain is an example of distributed ledger technology (DLT). These are essentially a database distributed within a network, with each node having access to the database. Data is stored differently from a typical database. Rather than having a centralized location where all of the data is stored and then giving people access to that centralized location, the data is stored in a chain. Each block on the chain can have data added to it by one of the nodes in the network, and then when that block gets full, a new one is created and added to the chain. Each node in the network has a copy of each block.
So why is blockchain technology being so closely examined as a new way of achieving EHRs? Put simply. It is a technology that can eliminate all of the problems associated with EHRs in their current state and provide added benefits that just aren’t possible with the technology currently being used.
One of the most apparent benefits of using EHR blockchain technology is its robustness against privacy concerns. Blockchain uses cryptographic techniques to secure data. It is encrypted before being added by the sender in a way that is impossible to read by outside forces, and it can only be decrypted by a receiver who holds the same key. With this technology, it doesn’t matter how insecure a network is. The data is unreadable by anyone without the correct key. One example of this in the news has been Whatsapp, which uses the same technology to secure their messages. Even government agencies with all of the resources at their disposal cannot access the messages sent via Whatsapp, which refuse to allow them to decrypt the messages.
EHR blockchain technology will also mean that every health provider in the network will be using the same system to input and access data. Therefore, the issues with incompatibility between different providers’ systems would be eliminated. This will help to ensure the accuracy of patient data and reduce the time that providers need to spend inputting data. And once the data has been added, it is immutable. So there will always be a clear record of each addition to the patient’s file, which will help with transparency and accuracy. In addition, everyone sees the same data as soon as it is added to the blockchain, and everyone can be safe in the knowledge that the data is accurate and up to date.
EHR blockchain will allow patients to have a greater sense of control over their data. They can be a node in the network with complete access to their entire health record and every addition that has ever been made to it. They can be assured that their prescriptions are accurate and safe, that they can put in a query if they see anything added that doesn’t seem correct, and they will know exactly who has access to their data at all times. Because of this, there can be greater accountability for the healthcare provided to patients and a greater sense of being involved in their healthcare journey and needs.
EHR blockchain is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. Its use is being floated by government think tanks for the UK’s NHS, and there have been many scientific papers written that outline its potential. However, for many, it seems as though the question with EHR blockchain is not if but when.
What are the companies that are driving the change?
There are already blockchain companies that are working within the healthcare field. For example, HealthChain uses blockchain technology to collaborate between medical device companies and hospitals to deliver lifesaving technology efficiently. Similarly, BlockPharma is a pharmaceutical company based in France that uses blockchain technology to ensure that drugs delivered to lower-income countries are authentic and of good quality by tracking their movements from the factory to the end-user.
PokitDok is a startup that could be the driver of taking EHR blockchain in a fascinating new direction. We all carry smartphones in our pockets that can track a wide range of health information about us and, if we use wearable technology, there can be an even greater wealth of information about our health stored in our smartphones.
PokitDok aims to use EHR blockchain to link this health information directly with our healthcare providers so that they can have the fullest picture of our health possible. Never in the history of healthcare have providers been able to access so much real-time data about so many aspects of our health, so this technology has the potential to revolutionize the standard of healthcare completely.
To wrap up
Technology moves forwards at a rapid pace, and there have been so many innovative developments over the last few decades that have changed the way we live entirely. Unfortunately, electronic health records (EHRs) have not kept up with the pace of technological change, and they are still subject to the same problems that were present when they were created.
EHR blockchain technology has the potential to completely change the landscape of EHRs and how patients’ health information is stored and accessed in a way that will benefit both healthcare providers and patients. It could even drive new and innovative ways for healthcare providers to access important real-time health information that could provide a higher level of care for everyone.