Blockchain in Healthcare Sector

August 4th, 2016

Blockchain technology has been disrupting the finance industry for a couple of years. So, its high time now to utilize this trendy technology in healthcare sector to bring out increased efficiency.

Blockchain Technology – Overview:

Blockchain is the name given to a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing set of data records. As a distributed database, it has no master computer to hold the entire chain. Instead, the active nodes have a copy of the chain. The database continues to grow — data records are only added to the chain.

As pointed out by the Chief Scientist of PokitDok Bryan Smith, “A blockchain, at its essence, is a distributed database containing records whose contents, authenticity, and security are guaranteed. It drives efficiency, protects rights through immutable records, and establishes a system of accountability”. He further added “engaged participants could opt in to share information that they want to share. That data could be accessible to authorized parties through a variety of front ends – from a mobile device to a sensitive compartmented information facility. There’s no other database that exists with that kind of functionality.”

Blockchain Elements:

Broadly, there are two types of elements:

  • Transactions: Actions taken by the participants in the system
  • Blocks: Transaction and time-stamp records for correct sequencing

Advantages of Blockchain:

  • Public: All participants can view the stored blocks and transactions that are asymmetrically encrypted.
  • Decentralized: No single authority for transaction approval exists.
  • Secure: It can only be extended. Even modification of previous records is not permitted.

Blockchain Technology

Workflow of Blockchain:

  • To add a transaction in the distributed database, validation (algorithm based) is required from all participants. The validation criteria are dependent on system and transaction approval.
  • Approved transactions are bundled in a block, which is sent to all participating nodes for validation. A hash is attached to each blog for fingerprinting.

Blockchain Types:

Broadly, there are two types:

  • Public: Read and write permissions for one and all, eg. Bitcoin
  • Private: Used for common legal entities

Blockchain in Healthcare:

Healthcare industry leverages Blockchain Technology to secure health information across entities exploiting interoperability. Besides, wide use of this technology is noted in vaccine registries, electronic medical record and patient transaction management.

  • Healthcare Mobile Communications and Alerts: Development of apps enriched with features like data collection from other apps, data storage in blocks and data integration to other systems through REST API and HTML forms.
  • Population Health Management: Replacement of Health information Exchanges (HIE) and All Payer Claim Databases (APCD) in medical data security
  • PGHD: Enablement of Medical Data Security streamlines the path of Patient Generated Health Data (PGHD) adoption.

Future of Blockchain:

Blockchain Technology has a wide scope in healthcare IT and many other domains and this will continue to grow over time. Critics, meanwhile, counter that it takes “enormous processing power and specialized equipment that far exceeds the benefits. Although most would acknowledge blockchain’s potential is still evolving and maturing, especially with respect to its applicability to the healthcare.”

According to notice posted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the ONC challenge, “Proponents of blockchain suggest that it could be used to address concerns regarding the privacy, security and the scalability of health records.”

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