Managing health records is a burden on both the patient and caregiver, but maybe blockchain can help.
A Wired piece, published today, makes the case that the current system of electronic health record keeping is broken. According to a Mayo Clinic study cited in the story, constant and redundant data entry is leading to medical caregiver burnout. I’m pretty sure patients aren’t big fans either.
The problem is that updating, transferring, and keeping medical records current is a massive and critical task for all involved.
Since blockchain is well-suited to manage financial transactions in an easy, straight-forward and verifiable way, the thinking goes, that maybe the same secure ledger system can be applied to tracking healthcare information.
Can blockchain bring order?
One of the biggest issues with the current system of electronic health records is that the look and information available can vary widely — there are lots of different input points from different caregivers sometimes working in different healthcare systems.
But, if healthcare providers agreed to keep records all in one place by adopting blockchain, than standardization could lead to greater efficiency. (The Wired piece doesn’t mention anything about how a blockchain-based health record system would cut down on errors like prescribing counter-indicated medications, or ordering duplicate procedures, but it seems like a uniform standard would help in that regard too).
One simple way to illustrate this — drawing here again from the Wired piece — is prescriptions:
“Say that one medical record shows a patient takes aspirin. In another it says they’re taking Tylenol. Maybe another says they’re on Motrin and Lipitor. The problem today is that each EHR is only a snapshot; it doesn’t tell the doctor what the patient is taking right now. But with blockchain, each prescription is like a deposit, and when doctor discontinues a medication, they take a withdrawal. Looking at a blockchain, a doctor wouldn’t have to comb through all the deposits and withdrawals—they would just see the balance.”
While there is a bit of hype around blockchain, and if you spend enough time reading up about trends in digital currency and technology, it seems like someone, somewhere has proposed a blockchain to solve just about every major problem. So we can view every blockchain-based proposal with a bit of skepticism.
But, if, on the other hand, you’ve ever brushed up against the inefficiencies of the current system of electronic health records, than you have a sense of how improving the way the medical transactions occur could be really useful.
Side note: As I experiment with different kinds of stories and content for this project, I would really like to hear what you think. Please help shape the direction of these efforts and send some ideas or guidance. Thanks.