Blockchain Medical Records: Taking EHR/EMR Technology & Security to the Next Level

Blockchain in Medical Records EMR/EHR

Photo Attribution: phive/Shutterstock.com

Blockchain provides healthcare organizations and their patients with an alternative method for storing, viewing, and sharing electronic medical or health records (EMR/EHR). Blockchain is a secure digital ledger that is decentralized and usually doesn't have a singular authority. It allows a community, in this case, healthcare providers and patients, to record transactions onto a shared ledger. Each record is known as a transaction, and once a transaction is published, it cannot be changed. 

Though there is still hesitancy among healthcare providers to implement blockchain technology, mindsets have begun to change. The realization that this technology can aid in reducing operating costs, streamlining business processes, and improving access to information has made it a more attractive option. 

So, now that we've talked about what blockchain is, its pros, and its cons, let us look at how blockchain and medical records work together towards a common goal. 

Putting EMR/EHR on the Blockchain

When looking to store and view personal health information (PHI), having one master blockchain beats having several digital systems to do the same thing. Having a single source of information means less fragmented data. Blockchain in EHR or EMR manages large amounts of data while remaining very secure. It would seem like the perfect solution for the healthcare industry that works with sensitive PHI.

So, let us dive a little deeper. When data, like EHR or EMR, is stored across many systems, it becomes isolated and sometimes inaccessible. For example, your family doctor has your yearly physical records, while your cardiologist has records about a recent heart procedure. To get a picture of your current health situation, EHR needs to be shared between both providers; it is critical to receiving the proper care. However, if it is not, or if it is 'misplaced' in the transfer, it has the potential to create a real, and possibly dangerous, void in your healthcare history. If both the family doctor and the cardiologist used a blockchain system, the data would be received by a 'block.' That block then attaches itself to the back of a chain and gets a timestamp. It is quick, secure, and is non-changeable once entered. Think of blockchain for healthcare records as a universal system for real-time EHR. It can be accessed by anyone in the healthcare field (authorized by the patient, of course). 

What Type of Healthcare Industry Data is Stored in Blockchain?

Here is an approximate breakdown:

Healthcare data stored on blockchain

Image courtesy of Agbo et al., 2019

The Process: From Record Creation to Blockchain Input 

By now, you probably have a good idea about what blockchain is, but you might still be a little unclear about how it works.  We mean the process between document creation and life on a ledger. Before we jump into the flow, let us identify the important components of the blockchain system. 

  • Nodes: These are computers bound to the overarching blockchain system. They work to certify each block 
  • Cryptographic hash: A text combination that acts as a unique identifier for a particular piece of information on the blockchain
  • Decentralized network: There is no single owner or controlling authority of a blockchain system. It is controlled by the participating users, who each set permissions for their data as they see fit

Now, let us look at the flow of information into the blockchain system. This can be described in very complex terms, however, we decided it would be best described in simpler terms, to help organizations who are contemplating making the switch, but need more information. 

  1. Transaction creation: A healthcare provider generates or receives a report and uploads it to the blockchain system. For example, the results of a recent blood test
  2. Obtain approval from nodes: Once uploaded, computers linked to a particular blockchain system, will aim to approve the document. This would be to verify its format is compatible and the path it plans to take next
  3. Block: Once approved, the document(s) become known as a block
  4. Chain: This block gets added to the end of a chain. Usually this chain is associated with other data related to a particular patient
  5. Broadcast: If applicable, a block is broadcast to other computers in a blockchain system. For example, a patient's primary care physician may allow for new blocks to be broadcast out to all other specialists that same patient sees. This creates a complete healthcare image of the patient
  6. The final stop - ledger: Once data follows the path listed above it then rests as part of a chain on a ledger. This is an accessible section of the blockchain system. When we say accessible, we mean, accessible to all of those who have permissions to access said data 

If you are looking to get a visual on the flow, check out the following graphic. 

Blockchain information flowchart

Image courtesy of PwC Digital Services via European Payments Council

The Bottom Line: How can Blockchain Streamline Your Recordkeeping?

Blockchain based EHR or EMR is the way of the future. The process data takes from creation to storage is both quick and secure, while patient access and control is unparalleled. You might not believe it when looking at it from a technical perspective. With that being said, we believe the simplified view of the data flow can help to reduce hesitancy that continues to stall significant uptake of blockchain in the healthcare field. 

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