by adgrooms on October 22, 2019

We recently looked at how blockchain can benefit healthcare. From EHRs to the pharmaceutical supply chain, blockchain could have a profound impact in the coming years. It could advance interoperability, give patients ownership of their health information, and significantly reduce fraud, reducing costs and improving patient outcomes throughout the healthcare industry. But how does blockchain work to accomplish all of this?

One key feature of blockchain is immutability. Once a piece of information is recorded, it is in the permanent record. The information can be updated, but the history of what was originally written and how it was updated will be in the blockchain. The pharmaceutical supply chain's transparency and accountability would be vastly improved with blockchain. When a drug is manufactured, the record would be started. Every time it changes hands through the supply chain the record would be updated until a patient picks it up at the pharmacy.

Blockchain's immutability would also help reduce medical waste and fraud. Records shared between patient, provider, and payer can be changed, but a record of who made the change and when the change occurred is also permanently entered. All of the information can be audited at any time to see the whole history of the record and the fingerprints of the contributors. This could help prevent fraud from using stolen protected health information, saving the healthcare industry billions and reducing insurance premiums.

Blockchain data is distributed across a network of computers instead of stored in one place. This characteristic of blockchain is called decentralization. The current method of storing health data is to keep all records in one location. This method is vulnerable to ransomware attacks which lock all users out of the crucial data either until the ransom is paid or the data is restored from backup, possibly with data loss, definitely with service disruption. The distributed nature of blockchain makes this method of attack practically impossible. When every participating computer has a copy of all of the data, some could be locked out, but it is much harder and highly unlikely for an attacker to find and lock every single copy before detection.

Providers would benefit from decentralization with access to more, better, faster information to provide better, more thorough care to patients. A patient may have records at several institutions, but the current lack of interoperability makes information exchange cumbersome and slow, With blockchain, authorized institutions would be able to add information to the patient's single medical record. Combining all of their information into one place would have a profound positive effect on patients that are treated by multiple providers as well as give control and ownership of medical data to the patient themselves.

Another security benefit of blockchain is all of the information is encrypted so only the person with the access key to decode it can interpret the information. A special key is needed to decode and view the data on each separate blockchain. While the encryption could be hacked, it would take a long time to break the code, and it would have to be done for each separate medical record. This would devalue the incentive to hack medical data because of the time involved breaking into each individual record.

Blockchain's features can address many of the problems in medicine today. What other areas do you think would benefit from the features of blockchain?