Background: Medical referral is the transfer of a patient's care from one physician to another upon request. This process involves multiple steps that require provider-to-provider and provider-to-patient communication. In Taiwan, the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) has implemented a national medical referral (NMR) system, which encourages physicians to refer their patients to different health care facilities to reduce unnecessary hospital visits and the financial stress on the national health insurance. However, the NHIA's NMR system is a government-based electronic medical referral service, and its referral data access and exchange are limited to authorized clinical professionals using their national health smart cards over the NHIA virtual private network. Therefore, this system lacks scalability and flexibility and cannot establish trusting relationships among patients, family doctors, and specialists. Objective: To eliminate the existing restrictions of the NHIA's NMR system, this study developed a scalable, flexible, and blockchain-enabled framework that leverages the NHIA's NMR referral data to build an alliance-based medical referral service connecting health care facilities. Methods: We developed a blockchain-enabled framework that can integrate patient referral data from the NHIA's NMR system with electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) data of hospitals and community-based clinics to establish an alliance-based medical referral service serving patients, clinics, and hospitals and improve the trust in relationships and transaction security. We also developed a blockchain-enabled personal health record decentralized app (DApp) based on our blockchain-enabled framework for patients to acquire their EMR and EHR data; DApp access logs were collected to assess patients' behavior and investigate the acceptance of our personal authorization-controlled framework. Results: The constructed iWellChain Framework was installed in an affiliated teaching hospital and four collaborative clinics. The framework renders all medical referral processes automatic and paperless and facilitates efficient NHIA reimbursements. In addition, the blockchain-enabled iWellChain DApp was distributed for patients to access and control their EMR and EHR data. Analysis of 3 months (September to December 2018) of access logs revealed that patients were highly interested in acquiring health data, especially those of laboratory test reports. Conclusions: This study is the pioneer of blockchain applications for medical referral services, and the constructed framework and DApp have been applied practically in clinical settings. The iWellChain Framework has the scalability to deploy a blockchain environment effectively for health care facilities; the iWellChain DApp has potential for use with more patient-centered applications to collaborate with the industry and facilitate its adoption.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health Informatics