At this point, everyone and their mother has heard of Bitcoin, even though no one seems to be able to really explain it. It all seems to come back to a vague notion of this thing called blockchain, which sounds cool … but what is it? And why should we in the medical world care?
Without embarking on a two-hour presentation on the history of blockchain or writing in techno-jargon that makes me seem smarter than I am, it’s about data security and encryption. While there are horror stories about scammers and hackers in the Bitcoin world, these attacks have never succeeded in breaking into blockchain, but into the accounts of individual users. Blockchain is a public record of encrypted and unalterable data transactions that allows them to be transferred securely while maintaining public verifiability.
Do our patients come to us because they have to, or because they want to?”
As a Bitcoin enthusiast, I see a lot of ads for blockchain-related content and new cryptocurrencies daily. I usually ignore them, but one caught my attention. It’s called Medchain and it’s promising the data security of blockchain to the EHR world. That’s right, boys and girls. Your PHI data can be transmitted with the same encryption direct to you for personal viewing, and for carrying from practice to practice via an app. I was intrigued and thought, “How will this impact my branch of the medical community?” So, I decided to pick up a shovel and start digging.
I contacted Medchain asking for an explanation of what their tech would do. “The initial software roll-out will function as an intermediary platform between providers,” which sounds intriguing, but what does it mean?
It means that your PHI can be requested by your optometrist via blockchain securely and that you, the patient, can instantly approve or deny the request via a free app. The company itself does not store data and can’t view the PHI. The information is sent in fragments through the blockchain network and requires an identifier to assemble and view. Meaning, eventually software developers will feel pressure to implement compatibility between their products. Oh, and it’s airtight HIPAA compliant.
What’s that mean for opticians?
Well, potentially it means the war over the PD will be at an end. It means that a patient will be able to access their previous orders and see just what they had, from lens designs to frame measurements once the software is integrated. The upside is that it will allow us to see what they had as well. It means that Steve Rogers won’t be calling you anymore. He’ll just use Blockchain to verify Rx’s. It will increase patient portability and force us to face a very serious question: Do our patients come to us because they have to, or because they want to? (It’s rhetorical guys, and if the answer isn’t want then you should seriously rethink your strategies.)
As it stands, Medchain will not be a platform for EHR itself, nor will they be doing billing through the platform. It is specifically data transfer from doctor to patient to doctor. It would just be a matter of time before software companies began to make their software programs compatibly usable.
For those of us who are old enough, imagine a trip back to 1990. The Internet has begun and everyone is confused as to what the hell it is. Teenagers are trying to explain to our parents that we can talk to our friends and share pictures. They are unimpressed, sticking with their landlines and Polaroids; but we pressed on and look at us now. With the click of a button, you too can see what I am having for dinner tonight.
This technology promises to be the same kind of game changer and it will continue to develop in ways we cannot foresee. Notables like IBM, Microsoft and Amazon are buying in, lending legitimacy to the technology’s future potential. Then again, it could be relegated to the dustbin of technological history like the pager… only time will tell.
Will Burdeaux, ABOC, NCLEC, has been an optician since 1998. Currently, he works at Tallman Eye Associates in Salem, NH.
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 edition of INVISION.