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Blockchain technology shows great promise in enabling healthcare interoperability, according to a new report from technology research firm IDC.
"While interoperability and HIE frameworks evolve to address a range of challenges in health IT, blockchain could deliver an alternative for where these technologies may fall short," writes IDC research director Mutaz Shegewi. "The ability to feasibly exchange data across and beyond the enterprise level with far greater degrees of decentralization, distribution, and immutability makes blockchain a noteworthy proposition for exploring new ways of shaping the future of health IT interoperability."
In the IDC report, Shegewi makes the case for blockchain in healthcare interoperability, arguing that the technology – initially developed to support cryptocurrencies – can disrupt data silos, democratize data sharing, and facilitate data automation.
“Blockchain interoperability needs time and momentum to mature toward a wider scale of adoption and to truly impact healthcare,” he writes. “However, the future is now and the market clearly reflects much buzz around the technology and its potential for hard-coding change. Blockchain interoperability could pave the way toward forming a next-generation vehicle for data exchange that contributes to digital transformation in provider organizations through its network effect.”
Blockchain provides a data structure that can be timed-stamped and signed using a private key to safeguard digital records from tampering. Use of blockchain has spread to the financial sector, the insurance industry, non-profits, and more.
But the healthcare industry’s slow embrace of technology, new workflow processes, and data management practices – along with regulatory considerations – are formidable barriers to blockchain adoption in healthcare.
Still, some provider organizations are experimenting with blockchain. Mayo Clinic in June announced a collaboration with a U.K.-based blockchain startup to explore uses for blockchain in healthcare, particularly blockchain-based electronic health records.
IDC makes several recommendations in its $4,500 report for healthcare organizations interested in employing blockchain. As Healthcare IT News writes, these include understanding the “pros and cons” of blockchain interoperability in healthcare before embarking on an initiative, and extending use of blockchain interoperability to patients.