Healthcare blockchain could provide solutions to IT challenges facing healthcare organizations and consumers.
The excitement surrounding blockchain’s possibilities for enterprise IT has predominantly centered on financial services. However, healthcare blockchain could also provide solutions to IT challenges facing healthcare organizations and consumers.
There are several challenges in healthcare that blockchain could help with, including data exchange barriers, supply chain problems, and patient data use obstacles in clinical research. Blockchain’s unique structure offers a decentralized and secure technology for exchanging and tracking data to help address these challenges.
So, what is blockchain, what is its potential in healthcare, and how will it impact an organization’s infrastructure development plans?
What is blockchain technology?
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), blockchain is a decentralized ledger that maintains transaction records on many computers simultaneously.
In order for a transaction, such as a purchase or a request to access information, to be approved, every member of the decentralized network must agree that the transaction is valid.
Once a transaction is approved and entered into the ledger, it becomes a “block.” That block’s information is connected to other blocks, forming a chain of records that are timestamped. The timestamp ensures that transactions do not overlap, and that the most recent change — an addition to an EHR record, for example — always serves as the source of truth for future transactions.
As a result, blockchain produces a dependable ledger without requiring record-keepers to double check with each other, on an ad hoc basis, if a transaction is allowable. By dispersing the data into secure blocks, the data security risks posed by holding sensitive data in a central location with a single administrator are reduced.
Blockchain can enable individuals to collect data from different sources and share only what they want.
According to a white paper by Deloitte and Pfizer, blockchain provides:
- Transparency: Data stored on the blockchain is transparent to all approved users, creating a single source of truth.
- Trust: Data is linked through secure blocks that are distributed across multiple users, enabling trust between users who don’t need to know each other.
- Disintermediation: Blockchain fulfills the role of existing intermediaries by creating an ecosystem of trust.
- Auditability: Data on the blockchain is difficult to change, creating a comprehensive audit trail.
“With the advent of these novel blockchain capabilities, the healthcare industry has started to take the technology seriously,” the white paper observed.
The big picture goal for blockchain is to have it support all digital aspects of a healthcare organization because every digital tool requires a secure and efficient way to exchange data or control access through permissions.
“Blockchain systems can seem complex; however, they can be easily understood by examining each component technology individually,” explained NIST in its draft Blockchain Technology Overview report.
For example, one component of a blockchain is a smart contract. Smart contracts are computer programs that automatically enforce agreements without the need for manual human intervention.
This can automate time-consuming tasks such as verifying that a healthcare provider has the right, under HIPAA, to view an individual’s data. The fact that the entity accessed the information is then recorded on the blockchain, creating a trustworthy audit trail for that individual’s digital record.
“A smart contract is a collection of code and data (sometimes referred to as functions and state) that is deployed to a blockchain. Future transactions sent to the blockchain can then send data to public methods offered by the smart contract. The contract executes the appropriate method with the user provided data to perform a service,” the NIST report explained.
Blockchains can be permissioned or public. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are based on public blockchains. Anyone with a computer can join the community to trade the currency.
Source/More: How Healthcare Blockchain Can Help Overcome IT Barriers