Emerging Technologies

Blockchain in Healthcare: The Case for Pragmatic Innovation

Understanding blockchain in healthcare in a crowded innovation space

In an exciting yet increasingly noisy and crowded space, questions continue to arise around what we can do with blockchain in healthcare today.

Which blind spots should we avoid?

What is the path forward?

We keep getting these questions from investors and entrepreneurs, consumers and institutional buyers, clinicians and administrators, analysts and policy makers, among others.

Use cases keep appearing to address net-new innovation that pursues opportunities not dependent upon legacy healthcare IT, novel ways of extending the value of existing healthcare information and technology, and projects seeking to replace current technology with blockchain.

Some, but not all, blockchain projects are tied to cryptocurrency. Some issue proprietary utility tokens (i.e., digital objects that represent tradeable assets) that serve to incentivize consumers to use their services and may or may not be exchanged with other types of tokens.

All this is happening around the world.

This year, HIMSS convened a Blockchain in Healthcare Task Force to tackle these questions, which we addressed in an article published in the inaugural issue of Blockchain in Healthcare Today.

This globally minded, experience-rich and inter-disciplinary team evaluated use cases through research and deliberations reinforced by industry, technical and academic literature, and reached the following conclusions:

  • To fully grasp the value of blockchain for a particular project, product or program, consider the totality of the disintermediated business model blockchain technology was conceived for, the decentralized operations required to make it happen and the technology patterns required to support both – in this sequence.
  • Blockchain’s new model of trust, accountability, traceability and integrity goes beyond this totality of business transactions, operational execution and technology implementation. We maintain that blockchain technology offers strong resistance against tampering rather than immutability.
  • Worldwide, healthcare is catching up with other industries on a journey upward the border-agnostic innovation-adoption curve. However, certain legal and regulatory restrictions still apply.

Nevertheless, as we shared in the conclusion of our article, “blockchain remains an emerging technology both fraught with unanticipated challenges and the promise of unrealized potential in healthcare.”

Characteristics of What a Blockchain Solution Could Look Like in Healthcare

While staying mindful that we’re still at the early ideation-expedition stage of the adoption curve, what does a successful blockchain-enabled solution look like so far?

  • It produces a delightful, compelling and “sticky” user experience (UX) with the totality of the business, operations and technology end-to-end. While not an easy task, it can be guided by key performance indicators (KPIs) for return on adoption.
  • Ecosystem partners do their part in the UX play and they get their share of the value in return.
  • The solution architecture consists of “on-chain” and “off-chain” services for reasons including legal and regulatory directives, governance considerations, economics and performance, among others. Blockchain-specific interoperability has to be addressed in addition to decades-old interoperability problems and legacy systems for which the healthcare industry is notorious.

Clearly a disruptor, blockchain challenges traditional business models, operations and technologies. A “shiny-technology object” drawing tremendous attention and resources, let’s not forget that the ultimate goal is return on adoption.

A Call to Action

We present the following call to action for anyone contemplating, or already pursuing, blockchain in healthcare:

  1. Construct (or evaluate) an innovation adoption roadmap for blockchain projects. In this, we mean the path to transforming the project’s novel idea to a real-world solution that the intended users will find value in using.
  2. Rapidly execute this roadmap’s low-hanging-fruit use cases while continuing to explore other use cases.
  3. Take advantage of rapid UX prototyping to stress test the business-operations-technology triad prior to investing in what may end up being throwaway code, effort and good will. Learn more about the UX blind spots investors, entrepreneurs and executives ought to worry about.
  4. Share key learnings from these three points with the broader health information and technology community.

For a deeper dive into these topics, check this article from the task force, Pragmatic, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology: Paving the Future for Healthcare.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

Blockchain in Healthcare Guide

Blockchain and distributed ledger technology are taking hold in healthcare as the industry learns more about the potential to improve patient care and reduce costs. Better understand the basics and the potential application of blockchain in healthcare with our Blockchain in Healthcare Guide.

Get Started with Blockchain

Originally published April 3, 2018, updated October 20, 2018