For all of the raving about blockchain as a cure-all for the healthcare industry’s ills, it faces Olympic-scale hurdles on its way to implementation.
There aren’t any viable prototypes, for one. The barriers to entry in the medical field can be so high that proofs of concept are a tough sell, even if they’re ready to be deployed. There’s simply too much on the line for medical professionals to experiment with blockchain right now. It’s going to take a hard nudge or a Godfather-style offer the industry can’t refuse before this changes. Some believe a hybrid platform combining legacy systems and blockchain could be a foot in the door, but we haven’t seen it yet.
There’s no way around it: when there’s a lack of trust in new technology, there are few opportunities for adoption. Decision-makers in healthcare don’t have much trust in blockchain right now, and the widespread lack of education doesn’t help.
There are also concerns over whether or not blockchain developers have the medical expertise necessary to create a product useful for healthcare professionals. Data security is paramount in the medical field, so a product has to be bulletproof before going live. This is a major problem for developers who want to test their product under the bright lights in order to work out the kinks.
The limited scalability of blockchain platforms causes more worry, as is the reality that many healthcare services exist due to administrative inefficiency. They aren’t eager to see a technology that could potentially reduce corporate clutter — that just means less revenue for them.
These issues are real, but they’re by no means a death knell for the blockchain’s potential to enhance global healthcare.
1. David Harlow, Principal of The Harlow Group LLC and Publisher of HealthBlawg
“Risk management. As a lawyer, I can blame the lawyers – most of us don’t want to be the first one on the block to roll out an innovation. The risk of implementing a blockchain-based mission-critical process is real – lives are literally at stake. Who is liable for establishing trust on a public or private blockchain if it turns out that that trust was in fact misplaced? It is hard to convince a lawyer that a “smart contract” would never be the subject of a contract dispute. When such a dispute arises, how will it be resolved? Do we need federal legislation establishing something akin to the federal vaccine trust fund to cover potential bad outcomes?”
2. Matt Riemann, Health Futurist and Founder of Shae
“There is a lot of hype around blockchain and the optimistic proposals that it promises of how it will solve the world’s problems, in every industry, in every way. Many forget that the healthcare industry consists of doctors and health professionals who are trained to be thorough and skeptical by nature, so there should be no shock as to why blockchain has not yet been openly accepted or implemented in this space. For blockchain developers pitching their business into this space, be mindful to approach realistically, discuss the risks and downsides honestly, be transparent about whether this platform is relevant or necessary at this time for that business, and remember that this sector is primarily driven by passion and care, but ultimately its operations are determined by public demand and commercialization. So be patient.”
3. Chrissa McFarlane, CEO of Patientory, Inc.
4. Matthew Sinderbrand, CEO and Co-founder of BetterPath
“Entire industry verticals in healthcare depend on administrative inefficiency as a source of revenue (like PBMs and Payer Clearinghouses), and these organizations will fight tooth-and-nail to keep their slice of the $1T waste pie. Creating room for blockchain to disintermediate (not disrupt) these deeply ingrained institutions is a crucial first step toward industry adoption, and we can see this starting to happen today. The greatest challenge to mass adoption, however, is an actual proof case. Right now, there are hundreds of startups and only 3-4 fledgling use cases for blockchain in healthcare, and I don’t think we’ll see widespread adoption until a few winners emerge.”
5. Andrew Hoppin, CEO and Co-founder of CoverUS
“I think we're seeing an overcorrection in the hype– a lot of people are now saying, smugly in some cases, that there is no utility to blockchains in healthcare, simply because there was a lot of smoke and mirrors and wishful thinking, and, yes, greed, amongst startups fundraising with tokens in 2018. There is utility to the technology, but few people are technically well grounded enough in it to be able to separate the rhetorical wheat from the chaff.”
6. Ildar Fazulyanov, CEO and Founder of WELL
“The healthcare industry is unique in the amount of regulations that have to be adhered to, not only in the US but globally. Every company in this space is dealing with the difficulty of navigating these regulations that are constantly changing, while at the same time trying to be on the cutting edge of this new technology. In the coming years perhaps, it will get easier to be compliant as more companies move into this space and it is adopted at a mass scale.”
7. Michael Dershem, CEO and Founder of MAPay
“Although there are zealots out there that are diligently preaching the benefits of blockchain to improve the adoption rate in healthcare, often these same advocates are a detriment to its acceptance. Blockchain today is not ready for prime time in many areas such as security, speed and cost of gas to run such networks; true obstacles to adoption. A more prudent, pragmatic approach is to build hybrid architectures that use legacy database structures with introduction of distributed ledger technologies where it can be tested and trusted.”
8. Todd Chamberlain, CEO and Founder of MedBlox
9. Barby Ingle, President at International Pain Foundation
“Security of personal data is the number challenge to blockchain adoption for the health industry. We need a healthcare system where all of the information is secure, easy to access by providers, patients and pharmacists at any given time.”
10. Aamir Butt, CEO of Lancor Scientific
There is currently a great deal of replication of data across a number of nodes. This consumes energy on par with powering London, which is obviously unsustainable.
Blockchain versions three and four will include ways to reduce the energy requirements.
Current transaction speed is satisfactory, but as the volume of data and number of nodes grow, there is a risk of sluggish response. Future blockchain offerings will undoubtedly bring in these super-fast transactions.
For populations and professionals to accept blockchain for healthcare more readily, the “brand” of blockchain must improve. This puts us in a bit of a catch 22, since an excellent way of using blockchain for good is, of course, healthcare.
The negative press for the use of cryptocurrencies, the relationship Bitcoin has with criminal activity, and the relative unfamiliarity with blockchain more broadly among non-enthusiasts are all inhibitors to blockchain being used more widely in healthcare.”
Have expert insights to add to this article?
Share your feedback and we'll consider adding it to the piece!ADD YOUR INSIGHTS