Even an accidental glance at news headlines over the last year would have you seeing terms like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin. Cryptocurrency is currently breaking record prices, ushering in a wave of new investors and redefining modern finance. The technology that they are built on — namely blockchain — can be applied across multiple industries, including and maybe especially health care.
Health care in the United States is an imperfect business, and entire careers are spent trying to even fractionally improve the quality of patient care while decreasing costs. One such area of inefficient practice is patient records. Think about each time you go to a specialist and then back to your primary care provider and have to ask “Did they send you my records?” What about the time you had to go to the urgent care in Florida after the jellyfish sting on vacation? Have you ever driven to a specialist in Dallas with a CD in your hand only to find that they can’t read it? Enter blockchain.
Think of a blockchain as an ongoing list of records (called “blocks”) that are time-stamped and linked by computer code to the block immediately before and the block immediately after. I like to envision a plane’s flight log with specific details about each flight leg, or one of the old library stamp cards tucked into a book cover showing times and dates of who checked the book out previously. That information stays with the plane or book and can tell the next user where each item has been. If somehow that flight log was encrypted, etched in stone and reviewed every 10 minutes for accuracy, the analogy would be one step closer to blockchain technology.
While not a complete solution today, multiple startup companies are trying to streamline medical record sharing. Imagine being able to share your entire medical history — every blood test, allergy, medication, x-ray, hospitalization, childhood surgery and provider visit with the click of a button. The information would be accurate, encrypted for your privacy, and most importantly controlled by you. No more having to call and ask offices to fax your records somewhere. No more filling out new patient paperwork at each office you visit.
Blockchain technology has already been applied to medical supply chain management. Medication data can show a precise manufacturing facility that a pill was made, who handled it and where it has been until it reaches a consumer. The information is incorruptible and can guarantee transparency throughout the shipping process of not just medications, but medical equipment, surgical supplies, and almost anything in a hospital or clinical setting.
Like most consumer goods, it takes a team to deliver top-notch patient care. The farmers, ranchers, food processors, factory workers, delivery drivers, food industry professionals, packaging manufacturers and service staff behind putting a plate of food on the table at a restaurant is comparable to the team it takes to give a patient an aspirin in a hospital. Blockchain technology can ensure that health care providers deliver exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.
So, next time you see a headline about Bitcoin, don’t dismiss it as “silly internet money.” The technology cryptocurrency helped pioneer may very well keep “real” money in your pocket by keeping your health care costs down.
Dr. Myers Hurt is a family doctor with Paris Family Physicians and blogs regularly at www.DrMyersHurt.com.
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