It’s time to consider blockchain technology for EHRs

Electronic health records (EHR) have been used for several years. It is the form that physicians use to login sensitive information about their patient. Security and confidentiality of such delicate, valued protected health information (PHI) has historically been a concern, and rightfully so.

Over the course of a few years, hacking on broad scales have been common occurrence and PHI is considered a high priority target by such malicious actions.

An answer to this problem may depend on blockchain technology, which has been discussed in many recent articles. This type of technology is used for digitalized currency such as Bitcoin, and will also be used in a global identification system innovated by a company called id2020, who is partnered with the United Nations. As a brief description of the technology, it is a string of databases that is incorruptible and is continually redesigned, by which multiple users can add novel information at different locations in real time. If a group or individual were to try hacking an EHR system that is tethered to a blockchain system, then they would have to hack each separate database by chronology.

Utilization of EHRs will continue to increase in presence at clinics and hospital, but that comes with more risk of external tampering. There have been reported cases in which dosage of anesthesia had been remotely altered, or a defibrillator was remotely inactivated during a medical emergency. These are only a couple of cases, along with PHI being stolen directly from devices in medical settings. If blockchain technology were to be installed, it would essentially limit the number of hacks, and may help trace the origin of the source if coupled with other online tools with such capability.

As an example, if a person attempted to steal PHI from a nearby clinic, then the hacker would have to access all the databases in multiple locations in various distances simultaneously or sequentially. By this point, the hack would be detected or countered. Albeit this technology is impressive, there are faults, and they must be addressed before being implemented in healthcare systems.

For example, if an end-user such as a physician would like to delete information from the blockchain, it would be virtually impossible as the information is immutable or unable to be modified. This can be an issue if information on a patient necessitates changes or deletion. The complexity and adoption of the technology is another issue of its own.

Personally, I believe this sort of technology may serve to be useful, and may come to fruition in the foreseeable future. The fact that a global identification system will use blockchain technology proves the significance and reliability of it exists. Additionally, once most people are included in this system, it would simplify the process for clinicians to organize patient information. Tracking and transferring patient information would not be difficult and monitoring the health of a patient would be less stressful. Also, there would be the possibility of decreasing communication issues between doctors, and patients would be able to follow all the information recorded by clinicians. As another benefit of the online system, there would not be any noticeable changes to the format of EHR forms, and that would eliminate the possible risk of causing disruption among physician users. It is difficult to deny the potential of this technology, and it may take time before it is accepted in the healthcare setting, but it will ultimately be integrated and normalized within the medical community.

Daniel Gomez Ramos is a medical student.

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