Author: David Chou, VP, Chief Information and Digital Officer, Children’s Mercy Hospital
In my last two posts, I discussed what blockchain technology is, and how the healthcare industry could benefit from sharing information using blockchain as a secure technology. It all sounds well and good, but there are some challenges for adoption of a relatively unknown technology in an industry that is resistant to new tech adoption.
There are so many upsides to sharing patient data in a secure, distributed method, it is hard to understand why the industry hasn’t already figured it out. But, like many things in the world of business, there are some concrete objections to why it is challenging to share healthcare data. Here are a number of obstacles I think need to be overcome before blockchain becomes the technology for the industry.
1. It would take a major cultural shift
Currently, many doctors are still stuck on paper. So, getting them to go from paper records to electronic healthcare record’s (EHR) using blockchain is a big ask. For example, doctors like leaving questions blank, a required field in technology makes this habit hard to break. The technology itself isn’t that difficult – it’s already been built. But the change management is a massive undertaking. Changing people’s behavior is not an easy task, for any industry.
2. Healthcare is distributed so it’s hard to implement
Healthcare physician providers and insurance payers are all over the board in terms of how different entities handle records. Without a streamlined system, like single payer, it would be extraordinarily difficult to pull all these entities together to adopt blockchain as a technology. Unfortunately, if any are resistant and do not adopt it, it reduces the usefulness of the entire system.
3. Some players aren’t willing to share
A classic example of this is how insurance payers and hospitals actively try to not share data. It is a competitive advantage for hospitals to keep cost data to themselves. If they are forced to share with insurance companies, they might get different rates for different patients. It is difficult to share data in an environment in which these entities are for-profit.
4. Lack of focus in government
As we know, changes in the United States healthcare systems is a heated debate and a change in the use of technology would take a dedicated focus from the Health and Human Services Administration, and their focus changes every time we get a new President. So, it really depends on who is in the White House on how Healthcare is managed. At this point, four years or even eight years is not really enough to make the shift, it has to be over a course of a decade or more.
5. Lack of a central entity to work on it
Because healthcare is a distributed system, there isn’t necessarily one entity that can adopt this and force it upon the others. There isn’t a governing body, per se, but there is The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). Last year, CHIME put out a challenge for a vendor who would be willing to tackle the unique patient identifier problem. The winner would be rewarded $1M. As far as I am aware, no one has yet even applied for it. Maybe a million isn’t enough of an incentive to tackle the problem, but the lack of effort is a challenge for a technology like blockchain, which many people outside of Information Technology haven’t even heard of.
6. There is nothing proven yet
The bottom line is, healthcare leaders are not going to adopt it until they see a proven use case. And so far, no one is willing to come together and work on a solution.
Even with all the challenges facing us – I still believe that blockchain is a viable solution to move healthcare forward. In the end, everyone receiving and working in healthcare would benefit because of lower costs from the ease of data transfer and would allow for more patient centered care. Unfortunately, this digital transformation will take multiple healthcare leaders, payers and the government to work together and willing to take a risk.