How Blockchain Is Transforming Health Records

Electronic health records are a pain point across the healthcare industry — from maintaining privacy to filling out paperwork every time you visit a doctor or transfer records when you move cities or doctors. Read how several organizations are now turning to blockchain-based electronic health records to streamline the sharing of medical records in a secure way, protect data from hackers and give patients more control over their information.

By Pragati Verma, Contributor

Imagine an Illinois resident having a sudden heart attack while visiting California or Texas. Can the doctors in the emergency room quickly pull up the patient’s information, such as medical history, prescribed medications, allergies, and recent lab test results? Probably not, if the medical data is stored in the patient’s family doctor’s office or in a local hospital network.

Officials at Illinois Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT) think blockchain could fix this. The state agency is experimenting with a decentralized ledger technology that would create a new identity model. Through this network, DoIT will provide parents of Illinois babies with a digital twin of their child’s birth certificate.

So, how does this work? Government agencies will verify the birth registration information and then cryptographically sign identity attributes such as legal name, date of birth, gender, and blood type for each child.

Permission to view or share each of these government-verified attributes will be stored on a blockchain where an individual (or their legal guardian in the case of a newborn child) can fully control their verifiable digital identity without depending on a centralized registry, as one would with a driver’s license or passport. Through this self-sovereign identity (SSI) model, when patients go to a new doctor, they can simply give the new medical team a token to access all of their previous health records.

“Blockchain-based solutions offer a new way to enable patients to control their records and put them in charge of releasing them to others,” explains Andrew Tobin, the European managing director at Evernym.

Evernym, a software company that develops decentralized, self-sovereign identity applications, is a founding member of the Sovrin Network, the world’s first self-sovereign identity network that enables trusted interactions between individuals and organizations. The technology powerhouse also recently partnered with Illinois to deliver a proof-of-concept for initiating this blockchain-based identity model at birth.

“Blockchain-based solutions offer a new way to enable patients to control their records and put them in charge of releasing them to others,”

– Andrew Tobin, European managing director at Evernym

“This will require interoperability of the user’s identity across multiple locations with user content and user control creating user autonomy,” adds Sunil Thomas, Cluster CIO for Business & Workforce at Illinois’ DoIT.

Yet, Evernym is not alone in its quest to make records more accessible to the average person. Several startups, such as Patientory, Medicalchain, and SimplyVital Health (which is HIPAA-compatible), are creating blockchain-based solutions to securely store health records and maintain a single version of medical truth, per patient.

“You will see many more important and critical projects in the next two to three years and how we scale and implement these projects will be very critical to the adoption of blockchain in the next five years,” says Patientory founder and CEO Chrissa McFarlane.

When these projects are expanded, doctors, hospitals, telemedicine companies, laboratories, pharmacists, and health insurers can request permission to patient information and record transactions on the distributed ledger themselves. Owning their data, patients can then take it with them whenever they change insurance providers, doctors, or health systems.

Yet, blockchain’s potential is not limited to making healthcare records more accessible or putting patients in charge of their data. According John Bass, CEO of Hashed Health, a healthcare innovation firm, the technology will also help address inflated costs. Rising medical costs, he says, are the biggest problem in healthcare across the world.

“Our value chains and system infrastructure today reward siloed interests over ecosystem-based shared value interest,” Bass explains. With blockchain, there is an opportunity to eliminate the friction and cost of several middlemen, such as insurance companies, group purchasing organizations, and EHR vendors, and return the value extracted by these intermediaries back to the patient.

However, according to Bass, putting blockchain to work when it comes to health records may be easier said than done. “We are currently trying to pick simpler applications that can make a difference in the short term,” he goes on, “as we build a foundation for more disruptive and exciting applications like health records.”

And it’s not just patient records that blockchain technology can revamp. It also has the potential to transform the way physicians’ records are shared and verified. Consider Professional Credentials Exchange (ProCredEx), a blockchain-based registry that improves the way credentials and license data for healthcare professionals are stored and shared. To understand how it works, consider a hospital trying to onboard a new physician. Traditionally, its administrators would reach out to the issuing agencies to verify the physicians’ degrees, licenses, and other records.

“Our exchange can eliminate this long, manual process,” says Anthony Begando, CEO of ProCredEx. “We will enable disparate industry constituents such as licensing boards and health systems to take the verification process online in a secure and decentralized manner.” Currently, the blockchain registry is creating a national consortium of healthcare delivery systems, telemedicine companies, payers, and contract medical staffing companies to launch pilot programs to verify credentials.

Evernym, too, is piloting Doctors’ Passport—a portable credential for medical professionals—alongside Doctors Link, a UK platform that connects doctors directly to hospitals to fill temporary vacancies.

“Blockchain will bring a lot of efficiency to this process,” Tobin describes. “Health companies can not only verify and check credentials, licenses, and the identity of the issuer, but they can also confirm that it was actually issued to the person being hired and note if anything was tampered or revoked.”

And while projects like ProCredEx in the U.S. and Evernym’s Doctor passport in the U.K. are still in their pilot stage, blockchain advocates like Bass are optimistic. “You can’t change the world overnight,” he argues. “This is just the beginning, where we are focused on picking simpler use cases, testing our solutions, and helping solve real world problems in near term.”