Recently I had the opportunity to speak at a conference for medical staff professionals (MSPs) about the benefits blockchain technology promises for healthcare credentialing. Afterward, there was an active discussion in regard to the best use cases for implementing distributed ledger technology in the medical staff office. Having the ability to break down data silos that currently exist in the industry and creating a single source of truth is appealing to many. Credentialing is expensive and time-consuming. On average, it takes a healthcare professional up to six months to become licensed, obtain privileges at a hospital and enroll with insurance panels. This can mean an extended period of time for the healthcare professional to not see patients and not get paid. Blockchain holds promise to cut 75% of the time and expenses associated with verifying healthcare professional’s credentials.
The most obvious use for blockchain in credentialing is the storage of static verification records in an immutable and tamper-proof way. In the case of a hospital, school or training institution closing, all records would have one central location for permanent storage. Rather than each individual institution hunting down, requesting and housing their own copies of records of these documents, the verification would be stored in the individual’s digital wallet and could be shared easily amongst the network.
In a scenario where all personal and professional records are stored on the distributed ledger, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to present fraudulent credentials. Which brings me to what I consider the second best use case for blockchain in credentialing. Most of us promoting this technology really just want THE single source of truth. The single source of truth would be shared by all, making it exceedingly difficult for a healthcare professional to intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent a portion or portions of their history.
However, the not so immediately obvious use case of blockchain in credentialing is playing out in front of our eyes right now with the COVID-19 outbreak. In the case of a global epidemic, will our processes of vetting practitioners for disaster/emergency privileges prove to be good enough? The coronavirus is forcing us to review our policies and protocols in place for bringing in emergency staff to assist with a potential influx of patients. Patient safety is and always should be our number one priority. We don’t want to potentially jeopardize the quality of care we give our patients by extending disaster privileges to unqualified or incompetent healthcare professionals.
The Joint Commission allows for a modified credentialing and privileging process when a facility activates its Emergency Operations Plan. Standards require that hospitals obtain at a minimum a government-issued ID and one other identifying document, most often a current license to practice. In most cases, current competency is established by way of a professional reference letter. This person’s opinion of an applicant may or may not be accurate and true. Moreover, in the case of a truly national or global epidemic, physicians are simply not going to have the time to complete reference requests for each other. They will be delivering much-needed care to the patients we all serve.
The single source of truth by way of the blockchain would allow for a complete and clear picture of one’s history and competence. The healthcare practitioner would be able to share the necessary credentials contained in their digital wallet to confirm identity and competency. We would have the ability to make informed decisions before extending privileges during this time of chaos.
There are many benefits of blockchain technology that can be applied to healthcare. It is important that medical staff professionals are aware of the pros and cons to make necessary contributions to internal policies and protocols. Sometimes disruption is necessary to influence change that is necessary and sometimes long overdue. We cannot continue to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools.