As technology continues to improve, using virtual connections in place of face-to-face meetings has surged in popularity. The healthcare industry is no different – the telehealth industry is predicted to be worth more than $130 billion by 2025. While telehealth offers many benefits to patients, particularly those who are unable to leave their homes, the technology raises several serious security concerns.
These problems primarily stem from the lack of security controls when it comes to the collection and sharing of data. During a conversation between a patient and doctor, for example, sensitive, personal patient data is often shared. When the connection between patient and doctor is virtual, it is possible that an unsecured connection could be interrupted, and patient data leaked. Home telehealth devices and sensors may also collect data that a patient would prefer to keep private, including times that the home is unoccupied. If devices are storing and transmitting this data, it is possible that it could be accessed by third parties.
These concerns have left a lingering question: how can patients still reap the benefits of telehealth while ensuring their connections and data remain secure? The answer may lie in another technology that healthcare providers have only started to adopt – blockchain.
Enabling Secure Data
Blockchain at its most basic level simply enables secure, immutable and anonymous transactions, allowing cross-network communications to take place through mutually agreed upon interactions between parties. For healthcare providers, this opens up an efficient means of transferring data and communicating between different organizations that handle patient data. Medical records can also be stored using blockchain, allowing providers to create a more complete patient history by keeping larger amounts of data and information securely encrypted in fragmented systems.
The ability to securely share data and control who has access to it will surely help to increase consumer confidence when it comes to telehealth. Blockchain requires that data is approved by both the patient and doctor before it is entered into a computer. The data must also be verified against a previous ledger, so no single party ever has total control. This ensures multiple checks are in place and reduces the chance that an unauthorized party could access sensitive patient data, which is one of the main concerns when it comes to using telehealth.
Regulating Sensitive Communications
While it offers many solutions, federal organizations have not officially decided how regulations would apply to blockchain, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA outlines rules for ensuring the privacy and security of patient data, as well as the secure transfer of data, but it does not apply to patients; ensuring blockchain users remain compliant will be the responsibility of healthcare providers.
HIPPA guidelines for telehealth require that healthcare organizations communicate electronically protected health information (ePHI) through regulated channels to ensure security. This means that tools like Skype or unencrypted email cannot be used to communicate ePHI, limiting what could be used for cost-effective telehealth.
The blockchain is a ledger, a database that keeps everything in one place and cannot be changed without leaving a mark in the ledger in the event of information changing. According to Jacob Kostecki of Blockhead Factor, blockchain makes it perfect for the recording of both research and treatment information, as well as medical histories. “Right now information is siloed and because people know that a lot of the information contained in medical records is false, there is a lack of trust that causes delays in diagnosing and treating patients,” Kostecki said. “In a blockchain-enabled world, patients will hold their whole medical histories in a wallet — from birth to where they are now in life. These EHRs will include medical records, procedures and everything else.”
When a patient visits a doctor he or she will have access to the patient’s full records instantaneously, making diagnosing cancer, for example, much easier. But blockchains mean more to healthcare than providing assistance at the point of care. Blockchain securely shares health data, standardizes formatting and improves healthcare transactions overall. Its impact can affect every major participant in the care cycle, from patient and provider to payer, pharma and even researchers and federal regulators.
It’s not a stretch to say that blockchain is everywhere in healthcare. Its application to healthcare has not reached its full potential, but the results may be profound as it comes of age, according to industry insiders. To better understand blockchain, we asked some insiders – technology experts, investors, professors, vendor reps and physicians – about what the technology may mean to the future of healthcare.
High-quality affordable healthcare is important to help eliminate healthcare disparities and works to improve the overall health of the population, whereas more expensive healthcare increase the disparity between health of the affluent and the less well-off.
The cost of healthcare varies dramatically around the world. Many health systems are struggling to update aging infrastructure and legacy technologies with already limited capital resources.
As healthcare costs increase, affordability and insurance coverage remain problematic.
In the United States, deductible cost increases are far outpacing increases in costs covered by insurance.
Brazil’s private health insurance sector lost 2.5 million beneficiaries between 2014 and 2016 due to the country’s high unemployment rate. Added to that, companies in Brazil had to cut expenses, and changing their employees’ health insurance plan to a cheaper one was a popular option.
As mentioned previously, lack of access to care causes an increase in hospital and urgent care visits.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 79.7 percent of non-admitted emergency room patient visits were due to lack of access to a healthcare provider. A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association estimated $734 billion (27 percent) of all healthcare spending was wasted on unnecessary services, inefficiency and inflated prices.
Similarly, according to Truven Health Analytics, 71 percent of emergency room visits with employer-sponsored insurance coverage are ambulatory sensitive, and could have been managed in an outpatient care center.
Moreover, as shown by the rise in medical tourism as a new industry, there is now a greater cost disparity in accessing healthcare than before. This new industry shows the cost of healthcare is such that patients are increasingly willing to travel overseas in order to take advantage of more competitive pricing for healthcare in other countries.
This makes it easier to connect patients in one geographic location to physicians in another, which can dramatically reduce costs, and create a freer and competitive market for high-quality medical services.
Today’s consumers want to take responsibility for managing their own health. Yet, most feel they don’t have the information and tools to do so. In other industries, customers can easily access comparisons of features, benefits, and costs to guide their purchasing decisions. In contrast, the healthcare industry presents a huge array of confusing choices, contact points, and service flows without any upfront pricing information.
Seventy-five percent of consumers consider their healthcare decisions as the most important and expensive decisions they make. Yet, the process of choosing and paying for medical services can be so daunting that patients often decline treatment simply to avoid the confusion and expense.
To make better decisions, healthcare consumers are increasingly expecting—and demanding—better information and more transparency from healthcare providers. They’re also asking for more of a partner relationship rather than a one-way dialog from medical provider to patient.
At the same time, as healthcare costs continue to rise, consumers are required to assume responsibility for a larger share of the costs of health plan premiums, co-pays, and out-of-pocket expenses, with no way to offset the cost.