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US healthcare industry in a ‘mad dash’ toward digital transformation

Decentralized identity and other tools prescribed for chronic data management pain
US healthcare industry in a ‘mad dash’ toward digital transformation

The quest to simplify patient healthcare records is its own miniature saga in technological history, and advances in decentralized digital identity are opening up the latest chapter. Managing huge amounts of health data, protecting it from breaches and accurately matching it with patients has become a costly and precarious enterprise for U.S. healthcare providers.

As pointed out by Chris Schuler, CEO of identity access management firm Simeio, in a recent post for Forbes Technology Council, “few industries face more severe consequences than healthcare.”

“Data sits at the heart of everything in the healthcare industry,” Schuler says. “And yet, this vital information – a goldmine for cybercriminals and a prime target for breaches – remains acutely vulnerable, exposed to the harsh reality of cyberattacks. Patients often end up as collateral damage.”

A new bill before Congress aims to address a key issue pertaining to interoperability. Previously proposed matching schemes based on a unique patient identifier (UPI), an individual numerical code that providers could use to match patient data, have been ensnared in wider political debates. This new proposed legislation aims for a reset.

According to a report from Health Leaders, the Patient Matching and Transparency in Certified Health IT (Match IT) Act of 2024 would “establish the patient match rate as a clinical quality measurement, creating standards by which providers identify patients with their services and information.” The act would define “patient match rate” and set a standard match rate of 99.9 percent – a degree of accuracy that would likely mean issuing digital IDs. However, the standard would be voluntary and the law does not require disclosure of results.

Verato identity data management maturity model

The Match IT Act aside, the healthcare industry is making what Clay Ritchey, CEO of digital identity firm Verato, calls a “mad dash” toward digital transformation and interoperability.

“As an industry, we’ve been focused on digital transformation, and now we’re at the phase where we need to start utilizing all of our digital data to improve care and reduce costs,” says Ritchey. “Knowing who is who is the first step of that process.”

Verato has announced the launch of an online assessment for its Verato Identity Data Management Maturity Model. A press release calls it “the industry’s first proven best practice assessment framework designed to help healthcare organizations evaluate, benchmark, and enhance their identity data management processes and resources to drive meaningful impact across their entire enterprise.”

The online assessment covers an organization’s maturity in six categories: sources of truth, areas of data excellence, agility and flexibility, data stewardship, data governance, and data trust.

“No matter where you are on the maturation curve, Verato can help guide you along the path for continual improvement,” says Ritchey.

Healthcare industry has a digital identity problem

Writing for the American College of Health Data Management, authors Jared Jeffery and Samuel Smith say the problem with healthcare is the same as it is everywhere: in centralized digital identity.

“Most of us – often without realizing – have anchored our digital identities to centralized systems,” they write. “And centralized identity systems, despite their convenience, are plagued with vulnerabilities.”

The authors argue that decentralized identity or self-sovereign identity models, which place data back in the hands of the ID holder, “could usher in revolutionary improvements” in healthcare. Among these, they cite decreased risk from the reduction of huge data honey pots into smaller repositories, increased patient agency, interoperability, and reduced dependence on third-party intermediaries in data verification.

Although they also cite challenges with implementing decentralized digital identity systems in healthcare, the authors ultimately believe that “the marriage of healthcare’s data and next-generation identity solutions is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’”

“Integrating decentralized identity into the healthcare sector could not only streamline administrative processes,” they say, “but also enhance the quality of care and patient trust.”

These will be in high demand as the sector moves forward into a future in which digital identity and biometrics are common. In his Forbes article, Chris Schuler points out that, “in 2023 alone, over 540 organizations reported breaches to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), impacting an astonishing 112 million individuals.” The list of consequences manifests as a house of cards: medical identity theft leading to crippling debt; prejudice and discrimination against those whose leaked data has revealed preexisting conditions or genetic predispositions; and ultimately, a collapse of trust in medical institutions.

“Recognizing the importance of investing in cybersecurity is essential, especially when considering the alternative consequences,” writes Schuler. “Treat it not as a cost but as an essential investment.”

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