In October 2008, a mysterious author, who used the name Satoshi Nakamoto, posted a very obscure, dry, and technical paper to a website about cryptography. Nakamoto announced blockchain, an encrypted, distributed ledger protocol to post secure and verifiable transactions without any centralized control.
You’ve probably heard about this technology already. Blockchain-based technologies make Bitcoin and all of the other cryptocurrencies possible, and there’s a lot more this technology can do, particularly for healthcare organizations, doctors, and patients.
You can use blockchain in healthcare applications to manage records and protected health information securely. Let’s take a look at why blockchain-based record system is such an exciting opportunity for healthcare organizations and the startups that want to build apps for them.
Blockchain cuts out the middlemen
So far the most widely publicized applications of blockchain have been cryptocurrencies. However, blockchain is more radical than people realize. Blockchain-based technology cuts out the middleman for healthcare information. Distributed ledger systems disintermediate expensive centralized solutions, which offers the promise of cutting out expensive PHI providers like Epic, reducing costs for everyone.
Set the permissions to suit your purposes
You don’t have to encrypt everything in an entry just the data that you want to keep obscured and private. A blockchain entry is only a reference; the data it represents can be in a secure file somewhere else. So you can use blockchain to gather data from disparate sources securely. All of this means that your encrypted ledger entry can be a simple public pointer that leads authorized users to the private network file where the valuable data resides.
Transparent transactions and traceability
Whether you choose to store your files that contain the PHI on public or private servers, cryptography ensures that each entry is unchangeable once you create it. Additionally, you only can read sensitive information if you have the key.
The ledger is transparent because you can confirm entries without seeing the private data represented by each link. So, doctors and patients who need to read and change the information have full access. Administrators who do not have full access can still monitor and manage the system efficiently.
Secure technology means privacy and compliance
Secure electronic healthcare records should only be accessible to the users who are supposed to have them. Blockchain links EHRs together with distributed ledger entries that overlap. Therefore, entries hide the secret signature of one link in the next in the chain. This feature makes it impossible to change entries once you publish them. With blockchain, you can trust that patient data is private and your company stays in compliance.
IoT medical devices are more secure
The Internet of Things is changing the relationship between patients and care. Connected devices give clinicians access to vast volumes of data in real time. Unfortunately, security was an afterthought for IoT devices, at least initially.
You can’t have the security of medical devices compromised in critical care or send private personally identifying information unsecured. Some of the most innovative applications of blockchain are likely to be those that protect data as it moves between the devices of digital healthcare.
Supply chain integrity verification
Medical supplies are often high-value and simultaneously portable, which makes them targets for counterfeiting and theft. Verifying the origin and chain of custody for drugs and expensive medical devices is critical to delivering high-quality healthcare.
Infrastructure growth means opportunities for startups
It is still early days for distributed ledgers and EHR, and the infrastructure to make it all happen is not in place yet. Blockchain-based applications need considerable computing power to work. The cryptocurrencies pay miners, to do the encryption computations and hosting.
However, hospitals and other medical organizations often have IT infrastructure to spare. Repurposing excess capacity to host the computer and storage resources is another way to make blockchain-based applications feasible. Founders can influence how it will play out right now in all industries, but perhaps especially in healthcare.