Blockchain technology has received a lot of headlines in the healthcare information technology (HIT) space this year, but it remains obscure in the physician practice arena, according to this week’s MGMA Stat poll.
As outlined in a July feature article in MGMA Connection magazine, the gamut of opinions on blockchain technology – a method of sharing a ledger of data across multiple systems in a secure, de-centralized and synchronous environment – runs from simply an HIT fad to a potential solution for EHR interoperability and a host of other data management issues.
But blockchain’s visibility at this stage in its development for use in healthcare remains limited: 84% of respondents to a July 25 MGMA Stat poll said they did not know what blockchain technology is, compared to 16% who said they did.
MGMA Stat poll respondents who were familiar with blockchain technology reported an array of areas where they thought it will affect healthcare most: 43% cited information sharing, 20% said claims management and 4% said patient access. Another 25% said they were unsure, and 8% reported other areas, including patient payment and quality reporting.
These results are in line with a number of recent reports on the technology’s adoption in the HIT space after being developed largely in the financial technology and product supply chain sectors. As John D. Halamka, MD, chief information officer, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, wrote in a white paper for MedRec last year, “blockchain for healthcare is very early in its life cycle, but it has the potential to standardize secure data exchange in a less burdensome way than previous approaches.”
Developers of blockchain-based applications for healthcare have cited a plethora of potential uses in HIT: EHR integration for “multi-institutional, lifetime medical records, and more.”
Frank Ricotta, chief executive officer, BurstIQ, Colorado Springs, Colo., says that the technology is generating interest in the HIT world with more people writing and talking about it than ever before, especially as it relates to sharing information.
“[That] data will become the currency that drives the healthcare industry” in the coming years, Ricotta says, noting that the discussions have just started to shift from HIT professionals to a broader audience. “You’re starting to see the business side start talking about it.”
Ricotta said that looking at alternative technologies is symbolic of a demand for broader information sharing and “enabling people to manage data,” such as data from wearable fitness devices and mobile apps that can assist patients with chronic conditions.
As healthcare moves toward a more holistic approach to patient information sharing, it could result in physician practices more efficiently and securely exchanging data for both administrative and clinical purposes. The industry is exploring opportunities to improve this data interoperability; blockchain is just one of many mechanisms being investigated.
A move toward managing that data in a secure and de-centralized manner across organizations Ricotta says, can “enable providers to have a better view of a patient [and] to be able to customize care plans more so than they’re able to today.”
MGMA will continue to inform and educate physician practice executives regarding industry trends in improving patient data exchange and how these new approaches could impact their organizations.
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