Three Ways to Revolutionize EHR With Blockchain

By Inga Shugalo, Healthcare Industry Analyst, Itransition
Twitter: @itransition

When it comes to EHRs, physicians tend to take them as a necessary evil. While health specialists struggle to work with clogged and slow legacy systems, they can’t just quit on using them. EHRs help aggregate patient data, allowing physicians to make more informed decisions and thus offer the best possible care to their patients.

Since it is impossible to fake a perfectly working system when there are so many physicians dissatisfied with it, major EHR vendors had to start updating their products with cutting-edge technologies. Many of the industry front-runners already announced upcoming AI injections to enhance EHRs with clinical decision support, pattern analysis, differential diagnostics, and more elaborate features.

AI is a good start to turning this love-hate relationship with EHR systems around, but it isn’t enough. Electronic health records are still clumsy and inefficient when it comes to manipulating data, allowing interoperability, powering care team collaboration or giving patients access to their own information – all care-critical matters.

Thankfully, a technology that can cover these pitfalls is already here. It is healthcare blockchain we are talking about. We believe there is a high chance blockchain will be the next go-to technology in EHRs and here’s why.

Blockchain’s value at the care core
Blockchain gradually becomes the desired addition to many clinical and pharmaceutical processes, such as enabling an end-to-end drug supply tracking, validating the results of clinical trials, and preventing insurance fraud.

Improving EHRs, in turn, will revamp many traditional data access standards and create at least three brand new best practices in tech-driven care delivery.

Shielding PHI like never before
Data security is an ongoing concern for healthcare with multiple APTs, breaches, and ransomware episodes arising yearly resulting in HIPAA violations and substantial settlement payments. Designed to be the primary storage for most comprehensive patient data, EHRs are always at risk of being hacked.

Being added into the EHR systems as their new data storing approach, blockchain can remove the security threat with its two core differences from other databases. First, blockchain is decentralized, meaning that data is distributed among lots of servers. Second, blockchain is an immutable ledger, so the information it stores can’t be modified or deleted.

In a few words, each new block of data in a blockchain is protected with a digital fingerprint or a hash, which is cryptographically linked to the previous block’s hash. These blocks linked with one another create an unbreakable chain. Any unauthorized change will trigger security protocols, including the whole network ignoring the tampered block.

Finally putting patients in charge of their health
The patient always needed to have control over their own health data, and the emerging era of healthcare consumerism slowly transforms this need into a demand. What stands on the way? HIPAA regulations keep EHRs the restricted area for patients and limit the ability of patients to access, review and share their data with care team members when needed to patient portals at most.

Blockchain can make a difference and make EHRs accessible to patients in any way they needed, finally putting them in charge of their data. Blockchain generates a signature for each patient data block from a hash, a private key, and a public key that acts as a visible patient ID.

With the identity permission layers and an API, patients can limit access to their information and then share only chosen bits of it with particular care team members or with pharmacies for fast refills.

Streamlining HIE and care collaboration
Most EHR systems lack health information exchange support, which makes them practically useless when a patient needs coordinated care from multiple health specialists across various health systems, different organizations within one ACO, or even a few facilities under one umbrella. When the need to transfer patient data arises, providers might resort to printing the requested information and sending a patient away with a stack of paper or faxing the data to another care team.

Blockchain-infused EHRs can make a difference by cutting out the middlemen from the equation, keeping PHI secure yet accessible to all authorized specialists. As a result, care team members can get quick access to patient records, avoiding such preventable medical errors as duplicated tests, misdiagnosis cases, poorly checked drug interactions, and delayed care delivery.

Is EHR ready for blockchain?
Currently, there are no more technologies like blockchain capable of transforming EHRs into full-fledged center points of tech-driven care. Recent news show that the industry agrees with that and first startups already enable blockchain in mobile EHR apps, targeting patients and their data control capabilities. Hopefully, we will hear more about such initiatives until the end of the year. Let’s wait and see.