Data is a critical asset in the healthcare industry – our medical professionals rely on accurate and up-to-date clinical information in order to best assist patients. But in Australia, there have been concerns around the use and management of this data in healthcare.  
 
There is an ongoing debate surrounding the security of the government’s digital record-keeping system, My Health Record. This has been compounded by the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) recently reporting 42 breaches which affected My Health Record during the 2017-2018 financial year. 
 
Following this, critics have called for the full rollout of My Health Record to be further delayed in order for the platform’s architecture to be better assessed – if it’s simply a ‘honey pot’ of personal and compromising clinical data or can the potential for privacy breaches be limited to an acceptable level? 
 
The My Health Record conversation is following a familiar pattern: a debate between privacy and innovation. The question is whether the benefits of data sharing, collaboration and open innovation can be balanced against concerns about security, identity, trust, governance, consent and transparency. 
 
This debate has brought the value of clinical data, and the need to protect it, into sharp focus across the industry and Australia at large. And as the healthcare industry is digitally disrupted, there’s no doubt that sustaining technological innovation will be critical to maintaining both national and international standards. 
 
Blockchain and smart contracts
 
One of the concerns around My Health Record is its centralised record system that could potentially be viewed by anyone with access to login credentials. Is there technology available that could securely store clinical data, ensuring only the right people can access only the information they need, when they need it?
 
Blockchain could very well be part of the solution. The much-lauded digital distributed ledger-based technology, originally deployed to underpin the exchange of cryptocurrencies, has the potential to revolutionise the use and protection of clinical and personal data across the board. 
 
In international markets, for example, blockchain is already being trialled for processing insurance transactions. 
 
The healthcare industry, at large, is bloated with cost, red tape and inefficient protocols for verifying and handling transactions. There is little doubt that blockchain could become the favoured method for conducting, verifying and recording secure online transactions, without a middle man. 
 
What blockchain offers to organisations is the ability to simplify and automate processes, including verifying, handling, and authorising payouts using predefined parameters. This could all be done using a permissioned distributed ledger, with the added benefit of securing customer data in the process.  
 
As an example, insurance provider MetLife is trialling an initiative in Singapore with a blockchain-based parametric insurance product for expectant mothers with gestational diabetes. The technology allows the patient’s condition to be confirmed by their OB-GYN via the smart contract system. Once the patient’s condition is verified, their payouts can be expedited and automated to ensure the expenses aren’t out of pocket.
 
This example showcases how blockchain can streamline and automate interactions between health insurance stakeholders, resulting in reduced costs and improved transparency. Clinical and user data can also be secured via a blockchain, with the addition of tools like digital wallets, keys, and signatures. 
 
Utilising these tools in conjunction with blockchain constructs and approaches, users can have the ability to maintain more control over their information, revoke access as desired and ensure that only authorised people have access to the right information, which may also be encrypted as needed.
 
The future potential in Australia
 
While international organisations are demonstrating the potential for a worldwide digital overhaul of the healthcare industry using blockchain technology, there is still a long way to go in Australia. 
 
Countries like Estonia are setting the bar with an increasing number of national services opting to use blockchain to carry out transactions. However, the technology remains in comparative infancy in Australia.
 
The relatively slow uptake of the technology is further fueled by the recent declaration from the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) that, while the technology has potential, it still requires compelling evidence that blockchain can deliver better value for government services.
 
In addition to concerns about the security of digital records, many Australians are also frustrated by the cost of private healthcare, the time it takes to process claims, and the changeability of their insurance cover. 
 
As shown by MetLife, the use of blockchain-powered smart contracts has the potential to remove the middleman in transactions, enabling a more secure, efficient and cost-effective outcome for the end customer. 
 
This further supports the use of blockchain to optimise the handling of clinical data and deliver on outcomes in the healthcare industry.  
 
 
Nelson Petracek is the Global CTO of integration server software company, TIBCO. 
 

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