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Here’s how blockchain enables pain-free health information exchange

Lola Koktysh

Lola Koktysh

Lola Koktysh

Lola Koktysh

With 6 years of writing on business and technology, Lola is a Healthcare Industry Analyst at ScienceSoft, a software development and consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. Being a HIMSS member, she focuses on Healthcare IT, highlighting the industry challenges and technology solutions that tackle them. Lola’s articles explore chronic disease management, mHealth, healthcare data analytics, value-based care delivery, CMS regulations and more.


The booming and blooming threat to PHI security is all over the news, building up a pile of inconvenient questions regarding health information exchange (HIE). For example, how can healthcare organizations control patients’ private data transfer to other providers in a trusted way? Some of them can’t even guarantee PHI security within their own organization, let alone its journey to other institutions.

Blockchain is the technology expected to answer many questions and introduce a new level of transparency and security into HIE. We covered the benefits of blockchain over the traditional HIE architecture in the recent article at Forbes that you are welcome to check out.

What we did not discuss, however, is how exactly PHI travels in the blockchain-driven HIE.

The map of PHI journey across the healthcare delivery network

It all starts when a healthcare provider delivers services to patients, directing the data to the blockchain. Identifiable patient information is then tracked in the provider's IT systems, while standard data fields, transactions, and the patient’s non-identifiable ID are redirected to the blockchain via APIs.

Healthcare organizations, clinical researchers, and other institutions can directly query the blockchain, submitting their requests via APIs. They can access only public patient information, e.g., age, gender, and diagnosis and analyze this data for population health insights. In their turn, patients can share their identifiable information with providers within and outside their health plan.

The map of PHI journey across the healthcare delivery network

For example, a patient with diabetes travels around the country, catches a cold, and gets admitted to the hospital outside their network because of severe headaches and blurred vision coming with fever.

The hospital, asking for the patient’s private key, can access PHI, find out more about the patient’s diabetes history, analyze the patient’s health data in general, and treat this hyperglycemia episode together with a cold. Well-informed this way, healthcare providers can significantly reduce the risk of complications.

Changes that blockchain introduces to HIE

The new architecture allows providers to hit two targets at once – to keep PHI private and to engage patients. These are the key improvements in security brought by blockchain:

  • Enhancing security with encryption, cryptology and public/private key access
  • Improving data integrity via distributed ledger
  • Allowing seamless integration with internal systems with APIs
  • Promoting electronic prescriptions and decentralized, trust-based, authenticated data exchange

And here are some benefits for patients:

  • Engaging patients through data ownership and thus enabling proactive approach to disease treatment and prevention, including precision medicine
  • Improving integration of IoT and cognitive computing
  • Supporting population health management by assuring the quality and relevance of evidence available to help all stakeholders make informed health decisions

The beginning of PHI journey

As blockchain isn’t a widely adopted standard or best practice in HIE, we are excited to be right at the starting point and anticipate the evolution of technology and everything it touches. Currently, blockchain is the most promising candidate to revamp the existing traditional architecture of central database and the Continuity of Care Document (CCD). Hopefully, the payers and providers will work together to streamline its adoption and make PHI journey both secure and more trackable.

That’s what we think, how about you? Let’s discuss the probability of blockchain reimagining health information exchange, along with other benefits it can bring and challenges in its implementation.