COVID-19 Exposed Inequities In Healthcare. Here’s How Blockchain Helps

By Chrissa McFarlane, Founder and CEO of Patientory Inc.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long standing inequities in healthcare. Underserved populations have suffered the highest incidence and death rates, while also experiencing the worst of the financial hardship. 

For instance, at least 141 African Americans have died in Wisconsin, representing 27 percent of all deaths in a state where just 6 percent of the state’s population is Black. In Louisiana, 45 percent of COVID-19 deaths were Black patients—significantly higher than their representation in the population, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. In all states, the coronavirus has disproportionately impacted Blacks and Latinos.

One way in which these inequities can be addressed is by putting patients’ data back into their hands so they can play a larger role in the decision-making process along their health journey. By improving upon the present standards for electronic health records (EHR)—which were created as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA)—blockchain could make this a reality. The EHRs, in their present centralized form, have become siloed, walled gardens. They are not interoperable and prevent patients from seamlessly accessing their own health records. Security is another concern, as hacks have compromised millions of healthcare records.

Presently, if a patient enjoys access to their health record at all, they interact with data in a fractured manner, which is a reflection of how the records are managed. That’s because, historically, doctors owned that medical record, and the patient faces a laborious process to, for instance, have those records sent to a new healthcare provider. This limits care options. As the healthcare industry continues to adapt for consumerism, there is a heightened push not only to gain access to electronic medical records data but also health and wellness data, which are determined and tracked by medical devices, wearable devices and Internet of things (IoT) systems.

The decentralized nature of blockchain changes the dynamics by providing a consistent mechanism for data, which allows patients and providers to collect a longitudinal record of their health and a means for self-sovereign identity in the management of this information. Created and maintained throughout the patient’s life, the EHR today is stored among hospitals, clinics, and health providers. These participants become nodes in a blockchain-based health information exchange system, providing security and privacy, while preserving a patient’s right to be forgotten by storing personal information off-chain.

There are many advantages that can be leveraged in shifting to a more digital, blockchain-based health information exchange system that directly address the current healthcare inequities, for example: medical device data, wearable device data, and inputs from the patient could all be seamlessly integrated to securely paint a 360 holistic view of one’s health in a distributed network. Another example could be customized health suggestions sent digitally that maximize a patient’s health, making health care possible outside of the hospital setting and therefore more inclusive. Blockchain’s token technology can also gamify the experience, and consumers can earn tokens for healthy changes in behavior.

Already established EHRs are a valuable source of healthcare intelligence. Forging ahead and building on EHRs to effectively share more holistic healthcare data is an essential step toward creating a smart healthcare system and improving equality in healthcare service. Blockchain can help the EHRs achieve what they intend to do: heal and improve people’s health by allowing patients to play an active role in their own healthcare.

Blockchain infrastructure customized for health data and information is part of the equation to securely enable collaborative decision-making within the healthcare industry. Over the next five to 10 years, we will see a transformation in the healthcare industry and how patients interact overall—we will see the emergence of Smart Healthcare. With blockchain technology playing a key role, we can create a more open system which benefits everyone—regardless of their cultural, financial, or medical background—through access to a fair and inclusive healthcare system.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.