There is a huge opportunity for blockchain to establish itself in the healthcare sector. Learn more about specific use cases that can help innovate how HR departments deliver healthcare & wellness benefits.
Blockchain technology is one of the most disruptive technologies on the market today, with multiple industries adopting it to optimize processes and innovate the way companies function. It has proven to be a game changer in the business arena and the global blockchain technology market is estimated to amass US$20 billion in revenue by 2024. Meanwhile, SAP reports that 71% of business leaders who are actively using blockchain believe it plays a key role in advancing technology and reestablishing industry standards.
While blockchain has already been widely integrated in processes for supply chains, banking and cryptocurrency (e.g. Bitcoin), the healthcare industry has also been identified as one of the top industries likely to be disrupted. Blockchain technology could offer solutions to some of healthcare’s greatest challenges, from securely managing patients’ medical data to tracking large databases of drugs through the supply chain or extracting healthcare data from clinical trials. As the technology advances and becomes more readily available, more healthcare organizations across the industry will be adopting blockchain solutions to redesign the global healthcare ecosystem.
HR serves a critical function for the healthcare industry and is an intermediate between employees and one of the most valued aspects of life: their health. According to Bitfortune, 55% of healthcare applications will adopt blockchain platforms for commercial deployment by 2025. Meanwhile, adoption seems to be ramping up with multiple governments around the world announcing plans to invest in blockchain and encourage its implementation. For example, Singapore’s government has announced financial incentives to enterprises for adopting the technology.
Amid an evolving industry, it is imperative HR professionals stay current with how blockchain’s ledger technology is disrupting the healthcare industry. They should especially keep a pulse on the implications blockchain holds for delivering the employee experience with improved healthcare and other benefits.
Use cases: how blockchain can help HR transform in delivering healthcare & benefits
While the use of blockchain technology is still more commonly associated with payment functions, its disruption to HR will be profound and pervasive in coming years with many possible use cases across the functions of an HR department.
To prepare for the coming blockchain revolution, HR departments should focus on identifying problem areas and inefficient processes that could be addressed by the transparency, accuracy and speed that blockchain provides. The processes most primed for blockchain disruption are those that are burdensome and expensive with substantial data collection and third-party verification. For this reason, healthcare and benefits could be the ideal match for an HR department looking to adopt blockchain technology.
1. Enhancing fraud prevention & cybersecurity for sensitive data in HR.
HR teams conduct some of the highest-volume financial transactions for an organization and handle sensitive employee data related to healthcare (as well as, banking, disciplinary records, performance records, expense reimbursement, and more).
Unfortunately, all of the data an HR department maintains is at risk of being exploited and, as more companies face data breaches, it is becoming increasingly important that proper measures are in place to maintain security and prevent fraud.
A company’s cyber risks largely emerge from an underlying lack of transparency and accuracy in its data systems. Because of its capacity for promoting transparency and accuracy, blockchain technology is being lauded as a solution for combating cybersecurity crime and protecting data. While blockchain’s popularity grows among large companies and companies that hold critical, sensitive data (for example, Lockheed Martin is trusting it to secure data), it is also being used by nonprofits to collect donations securely.
It is important to consider that blockchain technology can mitigate both internal fraud and external hacks of sensitive employee records. Access to the blockchain is limited and controlled—even those who have access are not able to modify the records. This limits both internal fraud and external hacks of sensitive employee records.
In the digital age, data is a major asset for a company. Blockchain essentially functions to decentralize data and places it across a large network of computer storage spaces to reduce the risk that a single hacking event could usurp all the data a company has. By using blockchain, HR departments can introduce a solid measure of security against cyber threats to protect their employees’ health information.
2. Improving health insurance, health records & patient experience with ‘smart contracts.’
Much of blockchain’s power comes in the application of ‘smart contracts’, which many organizations are using to make payments to employees, contractors and vendors. In fact, it is reported that 45% of early adopters of blockchain are already implementing smart contracts within their organizations.
A smart contract codes a set of parameters using statements in ‘if this, then that” (IFTTT) language. These contracts are designed so that, once executed, the entire process is dictated by these codes. It is also made irreversible unless of course terms of a contract need to be updated. While smart contracts have many applications for HR functions in terms of payroll, there are some very important considerations HR departments should be aware of in terms of healthcare.
Smart contracts have the potential to be used for insurance, including how patients buy insurance. Through a smart contract, all details of an insuree’s policy could be stored in a patient profile. This profile would then be stored on the blockchain platform in a safe and secure ledger that is less prone to hacks than the databases currently used.
Smart contracts could also impact the insurance claim process by eliminating the need for lengthy forms and time lags. If an insuree undergoes a medical procedure covered by the policy, a smart contract would be automatically triggered to transfer money from the insurance company’s account straight to the hospital or medical provider. The automation cuts out delays and hassles, allowing for correct payment of the medical service.
There are also numerous implications for electronic medical records, information and medical data sharing. Storing patient’s electronic health records (EHR) on secured ledgers, for example, would allow a patient to move easily from one hospital to another without having to fill out numerous forms. The blockchain network would safely store their records, allowing their new physician to access them without delay.
While hospitals and healthcare providers currently rely on a number of databases filled with patient data, these can be too centralized and restrictive for sharing potentially life-saving insights around the globe. If health records were to be kept in a smart contract stored on the blockchain, the data analytics would be available to hospitals, providers and research institutions everywhere. With widespread adoption of this healthcare blockchain technology, an individual could essentially walk into any hospital in the world for treatment and, with their private key, their health data would be accessible instantly.
3. Offering better access to healthcare & other benefits.
Blockchain’s ‘smart contracts’ could also change how employees gain access to healthcare and benefits. Once the employer outlines the terms of employment prior to hiring, HR is charged with upholding the conditions in the contract. These terms include provisions that employees value in their employee experience, such as healthcare insurance, wellness programs or other benefits.
The current model of manually delivering benefits runs risks of errors and could get in the way of properly servicing employees. With blockchain, HR could seamlessly deliver upon these benefits by implementing smart contracts that automate the process. For example, if a company outlines that an employee’s benefits packages begins after a specific waiting period, the smart contract would be written to automate these benefits at the right time and in the right fashion.
Not only does blockchain have the potential to improve security and automation of benefits, it is possible for benefits to be more personalized to each individual employee. In today’s digital world, consumers are accustomed to enjoying personalized experiences and this trend of hyper-personalization is reaching the workplace. Through blockchain’s smart contracts, which could be integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT technology, companies would be able to empower employees with benefits packages and wellness programs that are tailored specifically for them and their evolving needs. These personalized packages could become a critical tool for enhancing the employee experience.
Challenges HR faces in implementing blockchain to deliver benefits
Blockchain is a quickly evolving technology with new applications and trends regularly emerging. Though it is becoming more widely adopted across a variety of industries, it is inevitable that first-time users will run into issues and challenges in implementing it. For HR departments, it is imperative to consider these challenges as they explore which processes might be impacted by blockchain.
1. Data standardization & integration with legacy systems.
With blockchain being a new technology, protocols and standards for its application are not yet established. When the internet began to commercialize, it initially struggled without proper protocols. But over time, controls were implemented to allow for browser compatibility, cross-platform multimedia and better interconnectivity between servers. As more sectors adopt blockchain—especially healthcare which handles sensitive and personal data—ensuring that blockchains offer an industry-wide benefit will require widespread collaboration and standardization. For example, it will have to be determined when private, as opposed to public, if blockchains make sense. Otherwise, this could impact the security and functionality of blockchain technology.
All industries will have to get over a major hurdle when it comes to integrating blockchain solutions with legacy systems—or replacing legacy systems altogether. But the hurdle is especially high for HR and healthcare, which are often bound to specific legal regulations and already have very specific HR or healthcare systems in place that incorporate these parameters. Synching these systems or replacing them with blockchain technology could prove to be difficult.
2. Adoption & incentives for participation.
Despite enthusiasm and a strong record of success, blockchain adoption has proven to be difficult for companies. Greenwich Associates surveyed companies that have implemented blockchain and 57% reported its integration has been harder than expected. In terms of scalability, 42% of respondents reported it as a major issue, 39% said it is a minor issue and 19% said it is no issue at all.
Much of the challenges are culture or people-related, rather than technical. For example, most people resist change and, if they do tolerate it, they generally prefer it to happen gradually and incrementally. The oppositions to change could be even more pronounced for those in HR, especially with employees across an organization resisting how healthcare and employee benefits—which are very personal—is administered. Some of the proposed uses for blockchain would result in systemic changes that rapidly transform the entire system.
Even if employees and management are open to change, HR still has work cut out in hiring, education and training. Blockchain will require companies to hire more research and analytical staff as well as offer training on how to properly implement it. But this is where HR thrives. By helping to cultivate a culture of digital transformation, HR departments can also guide companies on their blockchain journey.
3. High costs of developing & operating blockchain technology.
The adoption of blockchain technology is likely to offer long-term benefits in regard to productivity, efficiency, timeliness, and reduced costs. However, one of the greatest obstacles to widespread adoption of blockchain is the high cost to initially install it. The software required to implement blockchain within an organization must typically be developed specifically for each individual company. This makes it expensive to obtain, whether hiring in-house or buying from a developer. Moreover, even after the blockchain software is developed, the company would also have to purchase specialized hardware to be used with it.
In addition to the software development costs, companies must also find qualified personnel to operate the technology. The blockchain space is new and growing so rapidly that the demand for professionals in the field outweighs the supply. This makes hiring qualified blockchain experts—either in-house or as consultants—quite costly.
Currently, it appears that the world’s largest corporations are the only ones benefiting from blockchain because they have the money, resources and data to spare. Furthermore, the technology itself seems too new and not yet fully understood for SMEs to adopt in droves.
However, this is all likely to change over time. The commercialization of the internet was gradual and in the early days it required companies who wanted to go online to put up a substantial amount of money upfront and invest in customized solutions. Eventually, as blockchain becomes more mainstream, it will also become much less expensive, more streamlined and more accessible to companies.
Blockchain is already demonstrating its potential to disrupt business as we know it. Because the HR department guards and manages large amounts of sensitive data that are critical to employees’ lives and how a company operates, it is likely that blockchain technology will be infused directly into the HR function to add transparency and trust to various processes.
Healthcare and benefits administration is one of the processes that blockchain technology is likely to directly transform. Though there are challenges in cost, scalability and perception to overcome, HR departments could potentially use blockchain technology to provide employees with greater access to more personalized benefits packages. Furthermore, as time is freed up by automated processing, HR departments will be able to turn their efforts to more value-adding activities such as building employee engagement and experience.