“Garbage in, garbage out” is a standard programming and analysis maxim: If you’re working with bad data, your results, no matter how carefully reasoned, are likely to prove false. The best architect in the world can’t build a sturdy house with rotten wood and misfired bricks. In a typical business environment, putting garbage into a system may result in missed earnings, poor margins, and even business failure. That’s bad, but in life-and-death fields like healthcare, the results of bad data can be lethal.
In the United States, piecing together a patient’s medical history represents a real challenge. The private insurance industry means that patients often switch doctors, and some go years without seeing a primary care physician. Specialists may or may not communicate, and prescriptions may be filled at several different pharmacies. Then, of course, there are the strict regulations surrounding the sharing of healthcare information. These rules, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), are good and necessary, but they introduce logistical challenges. Given the complexities of healthcare, it’s no wonder that many doctors worry they may not have the full pictures of their patients’ health. They’re worried they may be working with bad, and therefore dangerous, information.
Blockchains and distributed ledger technologies might prove useful in streamlining and strengthening the data regimes in American healthcare and in healthcare the world over. Because a blockchain ledger is encrypted and distributed, it has the potential to make health information instantly available wherever it is needed while keeping sensitive information private. If vital records are on a single doctor’s computer or, even worse, exist only on printouts in a locked filing cabinet, there may be delays and problems transmitting the data. If the patient just needs the information for a routine check-up, that’s one thing, but if a hospital urgently needs patient statistics before an emergency operation? That’s another problem entirely.
Blockchains for healthcare have not yet achieved mass adoption, but they’re already in production. Solve.Care, to take just one example, now works in the Arizona Care Network, providing information for administrators, clinicians, and patients. Their Care.Cards app allows for swift coordination between the many participants in an individual’s medical life, so that treatment and prevention alike become easier and more efficient.
Though many observers continue to associate blockchain and distributed ledger technologies with cryptocurrencies and high finance, the case of healthcare reminds us that the technology has many uses beyond money. In the months and years to come, what else will blockchain change? It’s a question that everyone in the industry must reflect on.