When it comes to hospitals, medical institutions, and the overall health industry, we can safely say that things have changed significantly from the pre-2020 era.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare was one of the few industries that could not shut operations but had to rise to the occasion instead. As a result, medical institutions, doctors, and staff had to face the added pressure of addressing patient needs, all while ensuring that COVID-19 safety guidelines and social distancing protocols were maintained.
This need for added flexibility, efficiency, and transparency led the health industry to imbibe several advanced technologies that have elevated patient care quality.
Electronic Health Records (EHR) is one area that saw a similar transformation, going from physical or manually-written forms to electronic information storage. However, despite advanced technology now being common in healthcare, we often do not associate blockchain with the health industry.
While converting original health records to digital format is critical for hospitals and medical institutions, it can often come with several risks.
In this blog, we will look at some of the critical aspects of EHR and how the use of blockchain technology will help bring more security and transparency to medical records.
Background on EHR and the Challenges Faced
Electronic medical records (EHR) are stored with medical institutions. They contain vital details about the patient, like the patient’s personal details, diagnosis, test results, critical ailments, history, and other information that enables doctors to provide proper treatment to the patient.
When in digital format, this information allows medical records to be accessed easily by the doctor and medical staff and provide the appropriate treatment to their patients. However, while convenience is necessary, it also comes with a few potential risks.
Some of the potential challenges when it comes to EHR include:
Data loss due to cybersecurity fraud, unauthorized access, or even data not being backed up regularly. This patient data loss can significantly impact the entire healthcare system and often lead to delays. It is not uncommon for hackers to target EHR databases. There are several examples similar to a cybersecurity data breach reported in January 2022 in Tennessee, which led to the exposure of 319,778 patient records.
Concerns about patient data privacy and tampering are also high. EHR often have access controls defined, but these can also be breached. Any changes in patient information or unlawful access can lead to enormous fines for the medical institution and create challenges for the patients.
The technical ability of the system is also a significant factor when it comes to medical data. While it is ideal for storing health records on servers or cloud storage platforms, they are limited by the hardware and technology available at the medical facility.
Enter Blockchain: How it Can Impact EHR?
In healthcare, patient information is scattered across multiple systems. It needs to be made accessible to several stakeholders, requiring adequate access controls and traceability to ensure that it doesn’t get misused or tampered with.
For this, a central administrator must be required to enforce strict regulations on patient data storage, access, and protection. But what if all these issues can be resolved without a central administrator?
Blockchain or a peer-to-peer distributed ledger is the ideal solution to this problem. With EHR and other medical data being on blockchain, patient information can be safe, cannot be tampered with, and is accessible to patients ensuring complete security and transparency.
The blockchain platform uses immutable and unique time-stamped blocks of data linked in chains through cryptography, meaning that manipulating or falsifying healthcare data is impossible, and the patient has complete control and access to their information, including test results, medical billing, history, and other details.
Benefits of Blockchain for EHR
Now that we have touched on how the immutability of blockchain can completely change the way healthcare records are stored and accessed, here’s a look at some of the ways blockchain can benefit EHR:
Highly Secure and Risk-Free
At its core, blockchain offers EHR an immutable ledger, meaning that neither the medical institution, staff, or patient can make any alterations or changes to the records without the other party being able to see it.
Thus, any manipulation, outside access, or even hacks are impossible, enabling integrity and security in EHR systems.
Interoperability is a promise of blockchain. It can allow patient information to be shared with authorized providers in a secure and standardized way, eliminating the need for medical institutions to invest heavily in creating their system or infrastructure that tries to replicate this process.
Access Controls for Data Access
According to Global Healthcare Fraud Analytics, fraud instances of up to $1.5 billion occurred in 2021 and will only increase if current trends continue.
The report also highlighted that the shortcomings in detecting frauds are often due to massive amounts of data being created and not getting segregated, segmented, and analyzed in a meaningful way.
A blockchain-based system for EHR can help guarantee a chain of custody, providing end-to-end data transparency and traceability while also ensuring immutability, meaning neither party can alter the records without proper access.
Better Transparency in Healthcare Systems
Today’s limitation of EHR systems is that patients do not have complete ownership of their medical records. If they plan to change providers, they need to ask permission from a third party or the medical institution.
Even with permission, this data is complicated to share. Blockchain helps solve this issue and makes healthcare processes more transparent by centralizing and standardizing healthcare data.
Patients can provide the token key for their information. At the same time, they have complete access to see what information is stored and utilized, creating a transparent healthcare system without any chances of errors or miscommunications.
The health industry adopting technology to improve patient outcomes and operational efficiency is a trend that will continue. It will result in better healthcare processes and make it more accessible and affordable.
With blockchain in EHR, patients can gain greater control over their data. At the same time, medical institutions can keep this data safe from hacks and data loss, meanwhile having the added flexibility to access it from anywhere.
As innovation in the health industry continues, blockchain promises an excellent opportunity to enhance the climate of trust in EHR and decrease the incidents of scams, clinical errors, and data breaches.
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