Gretchen Friedrich

Some administrators in long-term care facilities may not be aware of a term frequently used in banking and finance, manufacturing and distribution. That term is blockchain, and it could have a significant impact on the long-term care industry.

A blockchain can be compared to a spreadsheet or a ledger. However, instead of written on a piece of paper or on a single computer spreadsheet, it is an electronic ledger that keeps track of several transactions — blocks — among many different parties all at the same time.

We can further describe it by looking at some of the key components of a blockchain.

It is a peer-to-peer system. All parties in a blockchain — for instance, manufacturers, processors, distributors, transporters and delivery services, as well as the end-customer (in this case, the long-term care facility) — are part of what is called the peer-to-peer network. Everyone in the network can view the blockchain transactions.

Transactions are irreversible. Once an item has been entered into the blockchain ledger, it cannot be removed. This takes accountability to a much higher level than ever before.

There is instant transparency. Once a transaction has been posted, it is available for everyone to see instantly, at the same time.

Information is Identified and time stamped. All the peers in the network know precisely who added to the ledger, and all transactions are time stamped.

It provides accountability. Once a transaction has been posted, it cannot be changed. However, if it is later discovered that a mistake has been made in the blockchain process, then who discovered it, how it was rectified, by whom, and when this was done can all be added to the blockchain.

It is encrypted. Although the entire blockchain process is open-sourced, with many people involved, transactions are typically encrypted and can only be accessed with passwords and specific credentials.

Blockchain is playing a significant and growing role in hospitals, and what is happening there is being adopted in all types of healthcare facilities, including long-term care locations.

One of the key benefits in a hospital setting is the “interoperability” of patient records. This is when patient information — such as drug prescriptions, recent surgeries, procedures performed and overall health condition — can be shared and trusted among authorized clinicians, doctors, nurses, lab attendants, hospitals, pharmacies, and insurance providers, securely and instantly. 

It can also benefit long-term care administrators when it comes to the delivery of products and supplies. Once again, an example will help. In the food service industry, it is imperative to have solid, traceable records for all food items. If a large quantity of meat has been ordered by a long-term care facility, administrators who use blockchain can trace:

  • Where every piece of meat came from.
  • When and where it was processed.
  • When and where it was refrigerated and stored, and for how long.
  • When delivery to the long-term care facility began.
  • When the meat should arrive.
  • The “use by” date for each shipment.

With all the information the blockchain process can provide, it may seem as though this could increase the complexity and the costs to deliver products. The real-world result, however, is that it helps to make the entire supply-chain procedure far more efficient, and with efficiency comes cost reductions.

As an example, in 2014, one company discovered that to deliver refrigerated food products from one part of Europe to another involved nearly 30 people and required nearly 200 interactions and communications among them. Once a blockchain process was put in place, most of those contacts and transactions were eliminated. The blockchain provided all the information necessary along the way, allowing the food items to be delivered faster and at a reduced cost.

We should add, there are hurdles still to be addressed in the blockchain process. In some sectors, they are “learning it as they go.” However, this is often true of many new technologies.

What long-term care administrators need to know is that this emerging supply-chain accounting method is expected to transform a number of industries with the potential of reducing costs, improving efficiencies, and certainly, when it comes to food and medicines used in long-term care locations, product safety.