When mentioning or trying to describe the blockchain revolution, one of the hardest concepts is in separating the news from the hype and the noise.
A lot of the mystery and confusion around blockchain networks may be attributed to blockchain’s origin and the mystique found with the association of the unknown Satoshi Nakamoto, author of the now famous 2009 whitepaper, which by design created the digital currency Bitcoin. In fact, the most known use and application of blockchain to date is in the bitcoin cryptocurrency payment system.
Some common examples of how a blockchain platform can be used in healthcare are data interoperability, patient record-keeping, medical records, data transmittal and security. The number of new possibilities and uses is endless, with new ways of implementing and utilizing blockchain in healthcare evolving daily. It’s just one of many new blockchain applications that has industry leaders, blockchain developers and consumers scrambling to adapt.
What is Blockchain?
By definition, a blockchain–originally block chain–is a continuously growing list of records, which are called blocks. At its core, the blockchain is a distributed system recording and storing transaction records. Blockchain is a shared distributed and immutable (write once and read only) record of peer-to-peer digital events and transactions built from linked transaction blocks and stored in a digital ledger. These blocks are linked together and secured using the encryption science of cryptography.
Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp and transaction data. Blockchain relies on established cryptographic techniques which allow each participant in a network or networked database system to interact, store and exchange and view data and information without preexisting trust being established among the individual parties. The network or networked database system may include smartphones, tablets, cloud-based resources or on-premises nodes. Interactions with the blockchain become known to all of those participating and require verification by the network before information may be added.
This enables trustless collaboration between the network participants (peers) while recording an immutable audit trail of all interactions. It is an open distributed ledger that can record transactions between two independent parties effectively in a verifiable and permanent way. Blockchain is generally managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks on the blockchain. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks. This would require the collusion of the network majority.
Data integrity and security are two huge positive traits that lies within the blockchain system. There is then flexibility and scope allowing application layers to be built on top of private blockchains. This enables additional functionalities such as a public or private key or the self-executing mechanics of Smart Contracts, which provide security superior to traditional contract law and reduce other transaction costs associated with contracting.
According to IBM, “Blockchain technology is a game-changer with the potential to impact not one or two industries, but the complete landscape of how business is done. Better data sharing between healthcare providers means a higher probability of accurate diagnoses, more effective treatments, and the overall increased ability of healthcare organizations to deliver cost-effective care.”
Blockchain’s transparency, removal of intermediaries, decentralization, high degree of trust and security all lend to its functional implementation and utilization in the healthcare industry. When you combine this with reduced operating costs, increased transaction speed and easily accessible technology, the wide range of potential use for blockchain application is seemingly tremendous.
How the Blockchain System is Used in Healthcare
Hospitals can have as many as 20 unique ways to enter date-of-birth for a patient. Blockchain can now effectively tie patients to their data, rather than their identity.
“There are twenty-six different electronic medical records systems used in the city of Boston, each with its own language for representing and sharing data,” writes Mike Orcutt in the MIT Technology Review. “Critical information is often scattered across multiple facilities, and sometimes it isn’t accessible when it is needed most—a situation that plays out every day around the U.S., costing money and sometimes even lives.”
What about HIPAA? There becomes a question of security if we turn to manage patient information through blockchain. Businesses will have to revisit their agreements they have between doctors, hospitals, clinics, healthcare IT companies, insurers etc. With the healthcare industry being highly regulated, bitcoin and cryptocurrency remain uncharted territory.
What Holds Blockchain Back in Healthcare
Of course, privacy concerns–and potential lack thereof–are of importance in this industry which is highly protective of patients’ medical records and rights. Decentralized blockchains still make full acceptance of these applications problematic. Assigning the identity of an account on the blockchain is fairly simple once a payment is received. This problem and others must still have the details worked out to be truly private, safe and secure for all involved.
Can the blockchain designed for the black-hatted crypto markets work among the white hats and lab coats of the healthcare industry?
Behind blockchain technology is strong principles of privacy. This privacy is crucial for application in industries, such as healthcare, where the data being transmitted, such as medical records, must be vigorously protected. The blockchain technology when implemented in the healthcare industry can also streamline the processes, such as record-keeping, billing and insurance. It can assist in controlling and potentially minimizing fraud. Lowering operational costs and eliminating redundancy and duplication of work are also beneficial byproducts of blockchain technology in this share-based economy.
Blockchain-based assets are like cash. Similar to cash in your purse or wallet, if it’s lost or stolen it’s gone. Utilizing blockchain cryptography and advanced encryption, this is highly secure–more so than the usual passwords and codes used today. To streamline these processes for healthcare records, billing and third-party insurance claims, the security and privacy concerns must be beyond reproach.
Government and states globally have started to explore blockchain technology for streamlining medical and healthcare billing and business operations.
Versions of blockchain are being used to secure all Electronic Health Records (EHRs). As such, this has made entire populations much more “health smart” and has contributed to a huge foundation of trust for accessing patient records. This is also allowing patient data exchange, cross-border e-services and e-prescriptions.
A large number of blockchain startups are offering new products that use what were originally cryptocurrency’s technological building blocks to fix outdated health care models. The healthcare application program interface (API) platform PokitDok announced a partnership with Intel. They’ll provide an open source blockchain ledger solution called Dokchain. Dokchain will use Intel chips to record transactions along with the patient’s medical history. At the same time, this application will allow the administrative aspects of the patient’s care to be processed. Hospital personnel will be able to spend less time on time-consuming administrative concerns, instead being able to spend more time with patients.
This new technology could totally simplify the medical industry similar to how bitcoin transactions and other cryptocurrency use blockchain for digital currency exchanges. PokitDok has raised over $48 million and has received the support from over 40 industry influencers, including Amazon and other well-respected corporations and entities.
These are just some ways blockchain is being utilized to develop new technology as the healthcare industry forges its own digital identity. It is being well-received as an application that can save considerable time, energy, resources and money and can facilitate better, easier, smoother and friendlier patient care.