Blockchain technology made its debut when the concept of Bitcoin went public in 2009. It was originally created as a digital ledger; a write-only trust that could track, record, time stamp and decentralize transactions made through Bitcoin.
The basic idea is that unlike regular transactions that give verification rights to internal parties, these transactions go into a block of data that gets mathematically verified and recorded. Then the verified data is broken down and distributed to a wide selection of data keepers. Any additional transactions that result thereof are added to the block through a chain. Essentially forming a chain of blocks. Each block in the blockchain then holds data pertaining to any one transaction, and subsequent related transactions associated to it. The links, or chains are held and secured using cryptography which is why it was an ideal solution for cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. All the while, this data remains very secure, as it is distributed across many storage entities, and is written as read only data. Therefore, should be permanent. Changing the already written data requires verification from numerous independent parties.
It took six years since its inception in 2008 for industries not in cryptocurrency to look at blockchain as a solution for their transaction data. Since then, 15% of financial institutions have made the switch from traditional server storage and security to blockchain.
Medical documentation goes back to the Greek and Roman times. However, more methodical and individual population medical records really started in the late 1920s. Since then, Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) has perpetually come up on against technical, security, statutory and privacy issues. The more technology advances around the consumer, the more we expect the healthcare we rely on to advance as well. We want speed and ease of access. We want our data to be accessible to us, and our different providers, but, we also demand security and privacy in doing so. This creates a conundrum where the healthcare industry has to deal with all these conflicting issues simultaneously.
Blockchain may be a solution to this, with its distributed data system of checks and balances. However, no one wants to store and verify data for free. Bitcoin gets by this problem by issuing cryptocurrency to the data keepers. How can hospitals, or small practices achieve this same result? One possible solution is to set up “Cryptogroups” that have a vested interest in this solution. Cryptogroups* being made up of two principal groups. The first being the hospitals and insurance companies that work in the industry and already pay for their IT systems. The second being Server Farms or Cloud Providers that need payment for their services. Once formed, multiple groups could agree to co-share data keeper and verification points. The topography of such an entity could provide the backbone needed to create a widely distributed system with sufficient data storage points that attack from hackers, ransomware, and other security threats becomes all but impossible. At the same time, because all participants are looking to achieve a positive outcome from such a system, this sets the stage to build in to the fabric such items as: regulatory compliance and governance; guarding against HIPAA violations; and reduction in insurance fraud, Medicare fraud, and medical malpractice. The benefit of which helps pay for the blockchain in the first place.
A further advantage of blockchain is that, to achieve a successful implementation, all the data is suitably translated, verified, and compatible**. This lends itself to another area of rising interest – Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Given access to a large swathe of homogeneous information the true potential of AI in healthcare could really start to blossom (this will be the subject of a future article).
Blockchain is still in it’s infancy, and the issues surrounding any form of full scale implementation have not yet been wholly addressed. However, the advantages of accountability, verification, security, and potentially, cost reduction has CIOs across the healthcare industry investigating it’s potential.
Join in on the conversation. Should healthcare change their focus to the blockchain innovation or stick to the knitting of improving the systems they already have? For more information contact Bettsy Farias at email@example.com
Article written by Michael Williams, CEO, Global Healthcare IT, Inc. A leader in healthcare innovation, consulting, IT talent, and delivery.
*Cryptogroups is the brainchild of Michael Williams, CEO, Global Healthcare IT, Inc. (as at present there is no term to describe the type of distributed entity that could effectively serve the healthcare community).
**Not all data can be made compatible, for example, X-Ray images and the like.
Global Healthcare IT, Inc. is available to discuss this, and other topics at healthcare forums by contacting Bettsy Farias at firstname.lastname@example.org.