Blockchain Helps Keep Healthcare Data Secure for the Homeless

Blockchain Helps Keep Healthcare Data Secure for the Homeless

Blockchain helps to manage identities of vulnerable individuals, allowing them to secure their information and control when and where their data gets shared.

Technology solutions, including blockchain, can be used to keep crucial healthcare information secure and portable for homeless individuals, according to researchers from Dell Medical School at the University of Texas Austin.

Missing proof of identify is a major challenge for the homeless population when it comes to crucial services, such as housing, food assistance, and overall healthcare. Generally, healthcare documents are highly susceptible to loss, theft, and damage. 

Blockchain is a decentralized, digital ledger system that uses encryption to share information or transactions across a network of computers. Each “block” of new information is linked to the existing block, creating a chain of secure data that individuals can access anytime, anywhere. 

The structure of blockchain technology helps manage identities of vulnerable individuals, allowing them to secure their information and control when and where their data gets shared.

Tim Mercer, MD, MPH, director of the global health program in the department of population health at Dell Medical stated that blockchain has great potential as “techQuity.” TechQuity is technology that provides innovative solutions to advance health equity. 

One example, explained Anjum Khurshid, MD, PhD, is if an individual needed to prove they were 18 years of age. With blockchain, this information can be validated without having to share their driver’s license. 

“Health care institutions and social services are so fragmented and siloed they’re unable to accurately collect, share or verify basic identity information about a person experiencing homelessness,” said Mercer, who is also co-author of a commentary published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved

“This puts the burden on the most underserved people in our communities to navigate complex bureaucracies, just to prove their identities,” he continued. 

In the commentary, Mercer and Khurshid stated that there are various ways to address unresolved issues with lost healthcare information for vulnerable populations.

The proposed solutions included defining the scope of the problem, mapping infrastructure requirements, understanding legal and ethical considerations, and testing the overall effectiveness of blockchain to solve identity management problems. 

And when putting technology to the test in 2018, the City of Austin worked with Dell Medical School to establish an identity system for individuals experiencing homelessness using blockchain technology. 

Results of the study showed that blockchain allowed these individuals to upload and share documents, while holding their personal information as an asset in their bank account. 

“While blockchain is seeing increased applications across the health care and social sectors, this is still largely uncharted territory,” said Mercer. “We have an incredible opportunity to partner with the private technology sector to solve this pernicious problem that plagues one of society’s most vulnerable populations.”

Blockchain technology can address interoperability challenges currently present in health IT systems and also enable individuals, healthcare providers, healthcare entities, and medical researchers to securely share electronic health data. 

But blockchain also has the potential to save the healthcare industry billions annually. 

A 2019 report by BIS Research found that blockchain could save the healthcare industry up to $100 billion per year in costs related to IT, operations, support functions, personnel, and health data breaches by 2025. 

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