In our last few blogs, Dr. Rhea Mehta helped us understand the technical mechanisms behind patient privacy and data security. As researchers continue to validate these tools and innovators scale the technical infrastructure, we need to tackle the next challenge: adoption. To create this new future, we need to take a step back and understand how each stakeholder within the health system views the value of blockchain-powered solutions today.
These solutions not only push our technical limits, but challenge how we’ve traditionally organized societies around centralized actors like governments, banks, and hospitals.
This week we are joined by Dr. Chang Lu, a research fellow at Blockchain@UBC, an multidisciplinary research cluster focusing on how to advance the design, development and adoption of blockchain technologies to benefit Canadians and the world. Dr Lu’s research looks beyond the technology, to understand how patients and providers are responding to these new solutions in healthcare. He completed his PhD in Strategic Management and Organization from the University of Alberta, and is helping innovators understand the complexities of bringing new technologies into healthcare.
Understanding patient mindsets
Patients have never had more access to information about their health, but we know information alone doesn’t translate into better health outcomes. A 2019 pilot study involving over 2,400 hospitals in the US, found that only 10 percent of patients with online access to their records used them. However, consumer survey data consistently shows that patients want access to their information. The issue here goes beyond technology, and requires leaders to build empathy with patients’ concerns and motivations.
By understanding how patients are responding to digital tools today, we can not only help build better tech literacy, but proactively design features that can support adoption and meet people where they are.
In our first clip, Dr. Lu shares why patients are still hesitant to embrace owning their health data and discusses features and incentives he believes can be built into apps to mitigate these concerns.
As Dr. Lu explains, the average user has a limited capacity to even imagine the health system they need in the next 10 years. Building blockchain solutions isn't our first hurdle when creating a health system for the digital age. Instead, we need to focus on the patient-experience of these technologies. Empowering patients to take an interest in their data security will require a mindset shift. In the clip below, we begin to unpack the current attitudes towards privacy and security held by patients and physicians.
As digital health tools flood the market, patients will need help in understanding that cyber-safety and data protection are pillars of their health and wellness alongside traditional nutrition and fitness. In the short term, Dr. Lu says this looks like proactive protection by helping patients see the value of their health data, and adopting safer data sharing practices to protect it. Once more people experience efficiencies afforded by digital tools like EHRs, we can then begin to introduce ideas of more comprehensive data vaults that empower data ownership. You can dive deeper into Dr. Lu’s published research here.
This will also require researchers, physicians, tech innovators, and governments to work together, which can be just as complex as building the technology. In Dr. Lu’s work, he has yet to see effective governance structures and research consortiums that are able to organize and deliver results. Research and development is still a highly competitive ecosystem, and each actor has their own agendas and motivations. Given these dynamics, designing these governance systems may even require new business models and policy incentives that support collaboration.
Building trust across the system
Trust is a core driver in healthcare, and blockchain’s association with turbulent cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and anti-government groups will also impact its adoption. We know that misinformation travels 6x faster than truth, and in this environment health innovators cannot overlook the importance of trust. In this clip, Dr. Lu and Dr. Mehta discuss the impact of bitcoin’s reputation on blockchain’s adoption in healthcare.
Researchers and innovators need to work together to build empathy with patients and ensure these technologies are seen as empowering tools, rather than confusing alternative technologies. Programs like Blockchain@UBC are essential as we navigate this new territory and experiment with pilots and controlled experiments.