Coming Soon... Blockchain in Healthcare

By Tom Giannulli  |  October 18, 2016

While the title sounds like a B movie playing at a local drive-in, it is really about the next big thing in computing and healthcare technology.

Many people have not heard of blockchain, but it is well known as the technology underlying the bitcoin revolution. This new technology allowed decentralized banking and a new form of digital currency. The same technology applies to healthcare as a way to securely record, store, and recall distributed healthcare data on the Internet.

Many ask, what is it about blockchain technology that makes this all possible? The answer is simple, blockchain allows data to be distributed or copied to thousands of locations on the Internet, each with a unique encryption scheme. Each new data item, or transaction in the case of bitcoin, is stored as a block on the blockchain. The thousands of blockchains are also kept in sync so that any corrupted or hacked blockchain can be identified and removed. Thus, to break the system, a hacker would need to hack a majority of the blockchains that exist, an impossible feat using today’s most sophisticated computer networks.

So how does this help healthcare? It allows a common data store for all clinical and financial data that can be accessed outside of a proprietary network. So, there are no data silos to restrict access to the data; it is literally everywhere. Coordinated care based on the exchange of medical information can be a reality because the only requirement to accessing data is the authorization and credentials to do so.

Healthcare systems and vendors cannot hold the data hostage, and hackers will no longer be able to run ransomware attacks on your medical data. In addition, with the proper credentials, big data analytics projects can be used to derive new insights from what would be the most compressive clinical data collection ever constructed. The ramifications to pharmaceutical research and genomic therapy could result in any number of life saving new discoveries and treatments.

While the potential is great, there are still a handful of technical issues that need to be addressed, such as limited disclosure versus the all or nothing mode of use consistent with bitcoin, and private key security and sharing. But as the title indicates, the momentum of this movement is strong and is backed by giants like Google, Microsoft, and IBM. Many of these companies have already proposed healthcare solutions that cover a broad set of use cases as per the recent ONC Blockchain in Healthcare Challenge.

Given the longstanding issues related data exchange and the value of big data, it is clear to me that this technology will be making its healthcare introduction in the next few years. And, it may become the new standard in the storage and exchange of medical data.

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