A recent dinner conversation with my wife, a physician, went like this:

Me: “Wow, I was just looking at this hospital bill, and it’s clear that health industry regulations are burdensome for providers and consumers alike. On top of that, the enormous lengths we have to go through to get access to our own health data is mind blowing.”

My wife: “You’re an IT professional, why don’t you do something about it?”

Extensive regulation of the U.S. health industry (by multiple oversight bodies) has given rise to complex policies and cumbersome procedures that eat away at productivity gains. As patients, or consumers of healthcare, we often have to perform repetitive and siloed actions to interact with our own data. It is tiresome and frustrating. Intellectually, we understand the need for healthcare regulations, as they are rooted deeply in the need to ensure privacy and fraud protection, among other imperatives. However, in the process of implementing these regulations, have we forgotten who really owns the data? An even bigger question is: Who should own the data? This also raises the question: How much can we trust the data?

While my wife’s question hurt my ego slightly (just kidding), this got me thinking. Why does it have to be so difficult? Can we not provide a trusted mechanism to authorize the use and release data? Why do I have to fill in volumes of paperwork every time I see a specialist? Why do I have the extra step of requesting that my data from the specialist, or my doctor, is shared with each other? Isn’t it my data? Where is the trust?

I realized that all these concerns are prevalent because my health data is kept in organizational silos, and that each provider is forced to keep meticulous records of who they share the data with, and why, for the purposes of consumer trust and regulatory compliance. Once I realized this, the solution was staring right at me: Blockchain.

Enabling trust through blockchain

If we were to connect the various siloed health data systems on a blockchain network, and securely share the pre-verified and trusted data on the “network,” we could overcome the primary issue of trust. Now, by giving the control of the data to the true, pre-verified owner of the data, me, we solve a major contributor to patient dissatisfaction—that is, spending time after time completing the same forms every time I visit a specialist or change doctors. Instead, what if I could share my data with the specialist or new doctor? This also would serve as  consent from me and as a compliance tracker for the provider.

As with any large endeavor, we have to think big, but start small, if we want to succeed. This is especially true with blockchain. Continuing on the theme of my previous blog about the need for a sharing mindset to get the most from blockchain, let us take it one-step further and prove the benefits of such an endeavor. What if we start with the simplest of use cases – “tracking the consent of the patient” – to share their own health data with providers with the trust that their data will only be used for the intended purposes.

Simply put, we’d create a simple blockchain-based data authorization environment. Doing so not only would prove that the ecosystem works, it also would show that we can in-fact live in the world of securely sharing our data, and tracking the most basic details. In addition, it would give the control of the data to the true owner, the patient, and provide a mechanism for checks and balances before data is shared.

Here’s a more recent conversation at my house:

My wife: “So, did you solve the health data access problem, yet?”

Me: “Don’t worry – I’m working on it!”

Visit CGI at HIMSS to discuss the opportunities in health for blockchain and other emerging technologies.

About this author

Picture of Venkat Kodumudi

Venkat Kodumudi

Director, Consulting

Venkat Kodumudi leads the blockchain and robotic process automation practices at CGI US. In this role he promotes CGI’s leadership position in those disciplines, and helps execute projects. Previously he was an administrative director in CGI Federal’s Security, Administrative, Judicial, and Enforcement division. ...

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