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Blockchain in healthcare Q&A with Dr. John Halamka

par Gus Iversen, Editor in Chief | February 06, 2019
Health IT
Dr. John Halamka
From the January/February issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Dr. John Halamka, already a well-known figure in the world of health IT, has become one of the more visible champions of blockchain technology in healthcare, as well as one of its most optimistic advocates.

Last year, in addition to his roles as CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and dean of technology at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Halamka took the reins as editor-in-chief of Blockchain in Healthcare Today, a new peer-review journal dedicated to building a body of research for digital ledger technology.

HCB News: Are you currently involved in any blockchain research you can tell us about?

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Dr. John Halamka: In early 2018, blockchain was at the inflated expectations peak of the Gartner Hype Curve. By the end of 2018 it migrated past the trough of disillusionment to the plateau of productivity for selected use cases. BIDMC has committed to three areas of inquiry:

a. Data integrity – how can you prove that a medical record was not changed, deleted, or amended? When an encounter is complete, create a “hash” or one-way mathematical digest of the record and write that hash into the blockchain. If anyone has questions about the completeness or integrity of a record, it can be provided by comparing the “hash” today with the historical hash recorded the blockchain.

b. Provider Credentialing – today there are over 1,000 insurance companies in the U.S. Clinicians must submit credentialing data to each insurance company from which they seek payment. It’s a huge administrative burden. A number of collaborators are building a blockchain-based credentialing tool so that data can be submitted one time to a trusted ledger and then all payers can pull data from that ledger, reducing cost and burden.

c. Consent – The U.S. has 50 states with 50 different privacy and consent policies. We believe that recording consents on the blockchain instead of in each EHR will enable transfers of patient data while respecting patient preference via querying a public ledger before each exchange. This work is part of the MedRec project. See: https://medrec.media.mit.edu

HCB News: As blockchain applications emerge in healthcare, how will providers interact with them? Is there a level of training that will be required or will it be behind the scenes?
JH: Blockchain is an infrastructure component. The tools provided by blockchain developers are hard to use and require more steps than an average human can navigate. Uses of blockchain in healthcare need to be invisible to the user. The ideal application hides the complexity while still enabling the benefits of a public ledger.

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