Blockchain and bitcoin are like peanut butter and jelly — but the use of blockchain technology is not limited to cryptocurrencies. A blockchain is a digital ledger, where changes made to data and who made them are publicly, unalterably recorded.
Imagine a Google Doc. You can see who is making edits and what edits they are making, all in real time. Traditional databases only allow one person to contribute at a time, whereas blockchain allows for contributions to be made simultaneously across a network.
How might blockchain change the healthcare industry?
Right now, the United States has no system for storing and exchanging patient information. Records are scattered between primary care doctors, specialists, and every other physician who interacts with patient data. Blockchain could bring together all of that patient information in one location, providing the most up-to-date data and a complete picture of a patient’s medical background. Physicians could easily see what conditions a patient has been previously diagnosed with, every medical treatment the patient has had, and which doctors the patient has seen with just the click of their mouse.
This change raises the question: Who owns patient data? Currently, physicians exclusively store any records created for patients at their own practice. How will this shift when patient data is no longer stored in one practice’s computers, but on a decentralized network of computers accessible to dozens of physicians?
Most likely, patients will see an increased control over their own data, as patient permission is required for physicians to access records placed in the blockchain. This could shift as the technology becomes more prevalent; it will certainly be a question to follow in the coming years.
Will blockchain solve cybersecurity concerns in healthcare?
The biggest security issue blockchain solves is integrity-based attacks. These attacks involve the untraceable alteration of important data, such as the removal of drug allergy information. Blockchain would provide a complete record of the data change, including when and by whom the change was made.
However, by providing greater access to patient records, there are more opportunities for privacy breaches. According to Forbes, about 40% of patient data breaches come from inside actors — people who already have access to the healthcare records. Currently, insiders would only receive access to records held at that specific practice; with blockchain, they would have access to a patient’s entire comprehensive medical record. That there is no clear solution to this issue has contributed to the medical field’s slow adoption of blockchain.
The use of blockchain technology in healthcare is in its infancy. There are still many security concerns, which will take time to solve. Blockchain shows promise in fixing the fragmentation of patient records and, in a short time, may become the primary way physicians share patient data. While only time will tell, it never hurts for physicians to be aware of this potentially revolutionary, up-and-coming technology.