Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize healthcare

What in the heck is blockchain? Well, it is an extremely new concept that is on track to revolutionize how we manage our healthcare data, and our health for that matter. Essentially, it is a chain of trust. The blockchain scenario offers an intriguing promise for enabling one system to use another system seamlessly in the big data environment of the future.

There’s a lot that goes into this term. Let me expand what it means, and the changes it could bring to healthcare as we know it today.

How blockchain works:

Blockchain leverages a sort of distributed ledger system, and every member of a community (ex. a patient record) holds the exact same record of all the transactions conducted between them. Any person or entity holding that record would receive an automated notification and must approve or reject all changes before they can occur, which provides a secure way to ensure that edits (and access) are permitted. This gives us (patients) control over our own healthcare records versus the provider.

It also makes sharing records between all of your providers easy, ensuring that any doctor who sees you will have complete access to your medical history. This environment would alleviate issues of patient consent for data sharing which has been one of the major hurdles in developing a health information exchange system.

Many benefits:

Blockchain could be the foundation for digital workflows and advanced healthcare interoperability because it creates an additional layer that uses cryptography techniques to minimize cyber threats according to Transformational Health Industry Analyst Kamaljit Behera.

It holds the potential to save billions of dollars by improving current workflows and doing away with some high-cost gatekeepers that exist now to update and secure data. Blockchain would inadvertently allow smaller companies to compete and take on larger competitors, which ultimately is better for all of us.

Another positive aspect that I like about this technology is that members of the private sector could gain access to the data and create new sources (e.g. wellness data streaming on a device or information that has been collected by home caregivers).

There’s no doubt that more and more sensitive data will continue to move rapidly between an increased number of organizations, devices, platforms, and machine learning applications. It’s kind of scary so we need trustworthy technology that can enable this data sharing. Blockchain has the potential to offer an easier and more comprehensive strategy for ensuring trust, data integrity, and better control over how information is used.

According to Behera, the first groups to benefit from this technology will be the life sciences and pharma industries because it will create a comprehensive way to track and manage transactions. Just imagine if there was a tamper-proof record of how every single pill, vial, or patch moves from the moment it is made until it reaches the patient. Supply chain reinvented.

Interestingly, 22% of pharmaceutical and life science executives participating in an online survey said they are already using or experimenting with blockchain, and in five years, the expectation is that 83% of them will be involved in the healthcare blockchain.

There is still a long road ahead of us before blockchain can be universally implemented. Industries and users will need to quickly come together to determine and adopt these standards. When healthcare was first digitized, there was a mad rush to “just get it done” and the industry learned the hard way what happens when data is not secure.

Ultimately, machine learning, the Internet of Things, big data, and blockchain must come together to create a seamless, interoperable, and trusted domain for creating actionable insights and enabling higher quality patient care.