Blockchain technology has truly revolutionized the vision of the future of information and data. At the most fundamental level, blockchain technology enables the decentralization of data; that is, it allows control of information to move from a centralized entity (eg, an individual or an organization) to a distributed network. By using a distributed network to control information, society can establish greater transparency, trust, and fidelity in that data.
In an initial white paper published by the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at the University of California, Berkeley, the authors explain that “Blockchain is essentially a distributed database of records or a public ledger of all transactions or events that have been executed and shared among participating parties. Every transaction in the public ledger is verified by consensus of the majority of participants in the system. And, once entered, the information can never be erased. The most popular usage of the blockchain so far has been the famous cryptocurrency Bitcoin, which is a decentralized version of digital currency.
Proponents of the technology posit that blockchain will revolutionize the world across all industries, making the exchange of data and information easier, more reliable, and secure. While some industries are trying to be early adopters of this technology, others are cautious about exactly how it can be used and are exercising caution.
In a presentation late last year, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) discussed the potential of blockchain in healthcare. The paper presented several potential case examples for its use, ranging from supply chain transparency and securing access to medical records, to streamlining communication with insurance companies, and more. better at enabling remote patient monitoring capabilities.
Especially when it comes to healthcare data, blockchain enthusiasts believe the technology can offer increased security and fidelity over existing solutions. An article published by the World Economic Forum explains, “Blockchain-based solutions for health documentation offer secure encryption techniques that maintain the integrity of individuals’ information when communicating with different parties. Through tokenization, smart contracts, and encryption techniques involved in blockchain network transactions, the pre-authorization process will be significantly reduced, allowing patients to more efficiently receive needed and informed care. This is because the healthcare provider can quickly access relevant information, where previously they would have depended on the patient or physically mailed or emailed files from disparate sources, such as local doctors, laboratories, etc.
But others are suspicious. For one, blockchain is not well understood by the masses, creating skepticism and reluctance among many to apply the technology to something as critical as healthcare infrastructure. Additionally, the use cases for blockchain, while growing, are still limited. The basis of the technology itself, however, is not new. In fact, as the HHS presentation explains, the earliest forms of blockchain theory were presented in the 1980s, with iterations of modern technology definitely taking shape over the past two decades.
Needless to say, healthcare information and data are long overdue for innovation, especially in a world where cybersecurity threats and data fidelity are constantly in question. Indeed, blockchain technology is likely here to stay; however, innovators, policy makers and technology enthusiasts will need to find ways to apply this technology to healthcare in a safe, responsible and patient-centric way.
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