If you spend anytime on the internet, you’ve probably noticed the word “blockchain”appearing with growing frequency. In many LinkedIn articles, conference agendas, and email newsletters that pop up in my inbox, blockchain is being heralded as the next great innovation in healthcare.
When I finally decided it was time to investigate, here’s what I learned. Blockchain technology creates a distributed database that allows for shared recordkeeping that does not rely on a single server for storage. This distribution of information means there is no central owner of the information, and thus no single point of vulnerability to hackers. It also allows for shared, real-time changes to records, and an auditable trail of those changes. Think of it like the Google Docs application, which allows multiple users to edit a shared document at the same time, records all changes, and notes who is responsible for them -- eliminating the hassle of constant and questionable version control.
So what could this shared system of information mean for healthcare? There are many possible applications, including the sharing of clinical data, more efficient electronic health records, tracking of public health trends, and administrative and financial applications, among others. But perhaps the most intriguing application is the potential to leverage blockchain to advance value-based care. Complex payment systems are a barrier to VBC growth and blockchain may provide a way through.
Value-based care represents a fundamental shift away from the traditional payment system of fee-for-service, where providers and hospital systems are compensated for patient outcomes instead of for volume of care. VBC arrangements often use coordinated care teams of professionals with diverse skill sets who work together to achieve patient outcomes. The legacy payment systems in place today make distributing financial incentives to these care teams burdensome. According to a recent article from Health IT News, blockchain could be used to simplify how those coordinated care teams get paid for engaging in value-based care models. Aligning financial incentives for providers and care teams and administering them efficiently via blockchain would add momentum to the value-based care movement.
This future of blockchain-based healthcare payments is closer than we think. Change Healthcare plans to implement blockchain payment technology by the end of the year. As the shift from fee-for-service to value-based care picks up speed, employers should consider their vendor partners’ strategic roadmaps to ensure that they are moving forward with innovation in mind.
“The thing about blockchain that’s powerful and game-changing is that it makes it technically possible for a society to organize all of their data around an individual…it has the potential to streamline a lot of different parts [of the healthcare system] – from the back-end of claims management to the front-end of things like population-wide research.” – Peter Fuchs, senior corporate strategy consultant at Mercer.
Interested in learning more about blockchain? Listen to Peter’s 20 minute podcast: Hashed Health - Digital Exhaust: Peter Fuchs from Mercer Discusses Employee Benefits and Blockchain