Blockchain technology has been a hot topic in the healthcare industry this year, and 2018 is likely to feature more wide-scale adoption and development. The technology serves as a software platform for digital assets and has attracted a healthcare industry that’s in dire need of solutions that protect against cyberattacks.

To date, blockchain has been more of a fashionable notion in healthcare than a serviceable resource, but it is anticipated that will soon change. The surge in value of Bitcoin should help further legitimize blockchain, as governments of influential nations appear ready to give the crypto-currency more recognition. Health IT and security experts have been developing solutions that utilize the blockchain technology behind Bitcoin to make interoperability more secure.

The healthcare sector has lagged behind other industries, however, when it comes to the latest in innovations. Accenture, a research and consulting firm, conducted a survey of investment banks and concluded that blockchain helped produce savings in areas of central finance reporting, compliance, centralized operations, and business operations. Other industries that are establishing blockchain as a foundational technology include gaming, supply chain, and government defense.

While Accenture expects industry software suppliers and large payers to begin rolling out blockchain capabilities in early 2018, healthcare is still considered to be in the pilot or discovery phases with the technology.

Obstacles to rapid adoption of blockchain include speed of verification, capital expenditures and technical complexity, Accenture said. In addition, there is limited regulatory guidance and a lack of framework and legal precedents available.

Despite being in the early stages, 35 percent of healthcare and life sciences companies anticipated using some form of blockchain security in 2017, a survey by Deloitte concluded. Expect that figure to increase next year, as the sector is well-positioned for growth. Industry projections expect the global market to grow to $2.3 billion by 2021, up from roughly $340 million in 2017 (Statista, “Size of the blockchain technology market worldwide from 2016 to 2021”).

As care coordination and merger activity increases among healthcare entities, it becomes more important to have a secure network and reimbursement management system in place. Blockchain technology currently provides the industry with the best opportunity in cryptographic credentialing for protection of medical data and electronic health records.

Chris Silva is a senior analyst at DRG and specializes in information technology, telehealth and big data, among other topics. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisSilvaDRG

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