Blockchain systems offer solution to healthcare record management

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The implementation of a blockchain-based system may resolve many of the challenges facing current electronic medical records for British Columbia patients. 

By integrating a blockchain encryption method that works with the current electronic medical record options already being used, patient information could be securely and efficiently passed between healthcare providers, without the need for paper records or faxes, according to researchers from the University of Waterloo. 

“The current record management system is very inefficient and particularly during the pandemic, this can cost lives” said Okey Igboeli, a professor in the Science and Business program at Waterloo. “Currently faxing or sending paper records with a patient are commonly used in order to pass information between different points of care. Often, patients themselves are relied on to bring the referral or prescription to specialist appointments or pharmacies.” 

Blockchain technology is a single record system with a copy that is stored in each location, each of which get regular updates of “blocks” of information to add to the end of the record. For a medical record management system, each block would be a new medical record entry or test result for a single patient’s record. 

A blockchain-based electronic medical records management system would prioritize patient-centric solutions, by ensuring each medical provider has accurate, up to date information and test results. A secure electronic record sharing solution would address information siloes and increase data sharing throughout the healthcare system. 

The researchers have proposed a blockchain implementation system that could be integrated with the existing variety of medical record platforms, meaning that healthcare providers who already use electronic records would not need to change the interface that they are currently using.  

“For blockchain-based electronic medical records to have a successful implementation, they will use zero knowledge proofs to execute contracts and transactions on the blockchain, self-sovereign identity framework, a decentralized cloud for data storage, and the permissioned blockchain itself for storage of proofs of interactions,” Igboeli said.

In order to facilitate a smooth transition to a blockchain framework, the researchers suggest a phased implementation strategy starting with private clinics, then moving to incorporate PharmaNet, the existing records system for pharmacies across British Columbia. The final phases of implementation would be to integrate hospitals into the blockchain management system. 

These recommendations were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research by Igboeli, Danielle Cadoret, Tamara Kailas, Pedro Velmovitsky, and Plinio Morita.