The enhanced capabilities of blockchain technology in data access and storage bode well for a data-rich sector such as healthcare. Approximately 15% to 25% of the total national healthcare expenditure in the United States goes to administrative costs for billing and coding, physician activities, and insurance transactions. This translates to nearly $600 million to $1 trillion per year, a significant amount that could otherwise be spent on critical areas elsewhere, e.g. patient care and supply chain management.
Besides the financial burden, these administrative tasks can further bog down the healthcare workforce, which is already facing critical staffing shortages. This can lengthen waiting times at healthcare facilities and put the well-being of healthcare professionals at risk, affecting the overall quality of treatment and care offered to patients.
Through the following use cases, blockchain technology can be properly integrated into the ongoing digital transformation of health systems to expand equity and access and improve health outcomes.
While there have been efforts for digital documentation in healthcare, blockchain technology takes this transformation a step further by automating the workflows with smart contracts. Compared to manual systems where professionals ultimately spend a significant portion of their time on data entry and lengthy forms, blockchain-assisted documentation creates a streamlined and frictionless process: from the time a patient makes an appointment with a physician, to the point where their insurance provider is vetted and billed for payment.
A previous article on ‘Understanding the Types of Blockchains’ explains how permissioned blockchains deploy encryption techniques and keep access only within closed environments to prevent data breaches, tampering, or insurance fraud. This aspect of immutability also relies on timestamps and unique signatures, which are documented and stored in the blockchain every time a claim is filed and processed.
Rarely do patients ever find themselves acquiring health services from a single provider; care must be coordinated across the medical profession spectrum from primary care to specialized services. The interoperability of healthcare data is useful when providers are from different segments of the healthcare network and when services are spread across various locations to address workforce shortages in certain states.
The growing market for remote nurse practitioners in Ohio, and indeed across the country, signifies the boom of telehealth and its eventual permanent role in health service delivery. This prompted governments from 38 states (and counting) to make it easier for medical professionals to practice across state lines through the issuance of multi-state licenses.
Rather than manually copy-pasting and assembling data from various sources, blockchain technology allows medical professionals to access, share, and gain insight from healthcare data that is safely and comprehensively stored in a decentralized repository. This efficient information flow means providers save time and costs on retrieving and updating data without errors or omissions. Meanwhile, patients can stay up-to-date on appointments, medication, and treatment even when they are under the care of multiple providers at the same time.
Aside from data integrity and sharing between providers, blockchain’s smart contracts can also be utilized to change how healthcare professionals are hired and verified for practice. The bottlenecks in the authentication and recruitment process can add to the healthcare professional shortage, but PubMed Central research on blockchain-based identity management systems shows promise for decentralizing area-specific licenses or credentials. Through the use of unique health identifiers (healthID), blockchains can facilitate digital and permanent authentication processes.
The shared ledgers in blockchains can also increase transparency and reassurance when facilities have to sub-contract professionals or when telehealth domains have to be informed of medical staff experience and credentials. Ultimately, whether care is delivered in fixed facilities or emerging virtual models, blockchain-powered solutions lessen the time, cost, and effort of augmenting the existing healthcare workforce in order and filling in service delivery gaps.
To learn more about how blockchain is changing the provider landscape, from filing insurance claims to monetizing data marketplaces, visit our in-depth guide to blockchain healthcare use cases to learn more.
exclusively written for Kaleido.io by Ross James
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