With the recent boom in cryptocurrencies, blockchain has gain more mainstream popularity. It was implemented in 2009 as a core component to Bitcoin.
Blockchains are distributed systems that log transaction records on linked blocks and store them on an encrypted digital ledger. There is no one central administrator, but it has unprecedented security benefits because records are spread across a network of replicated databases that are always in sync. Users can only update the block they have access to, and those updates get replicated across the network. All entries are time and date stamped. Here is a TED Talk that outlines the potential of leveraging blockchain.
But the potential does not stop there. Harvard Business Review states:
Much of the hype around blockchains has focused on their potential to fundamentally change the financial services industry… Indeed, it is already having a big impact on that sector. However, our two-year research project, involving hundreds of interviews with blockchain experts, provides strong evidence that the blockchain could transform business, government, and society in perhaps even more profound ways.
The roots of blockchain are in the financial industry and associated market disruptions. But how can blockchain apply to healthcare? As we know, healthcare creates a tremendous amount of data: clinical trials, patient records, billing transactions, research results, and more. Electronic Medical Records (EMR) struggles with innovation and interoperability. MIT is doing amazing research in developing EMR solutions in their labs. The solution they are working on is allowing patients access to medical records across multiple providers as the data structures are stored on the blockchain. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) also sees similar benefits as EMR gets created then is stored in data lakes with encryption that is digitally signed.
This provides interoperability and removes barriers between different back-end systems that store patient data across providers. The patient would then use an app to pull the EMR in the illustration below.
Blockchain technology is in its infancy but has tremendous upside potential to address a lot of issues facing data security, interoperability, and data privacy. Solutions are evolving leveraging blockchain and make for exciting times as they develop.