HITInfrastructure

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Blockchain, Edge Decentralized Options for HIT Infrastructure

Decentralizing HIT infrastructure technology using blockchain and edge computing can take the weight off centralized data silos.

HIT infrastructure

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Organizations that are building out their HIT infrastructure are facing challenges when it comes to communicating data using a centralized repository, or a centralized hub that all data needs to pass through.

The volume of data and the number of devices communicating data makes centralized HIT infrastructure inefficient as the healthcare industry continues adopting advanced technology.

Blockchain and edge computing are two decentralized technologies that allow organizations to spread their resources out and not rely on a central hub to collect, interpret, and redistribute information.

Edge computing, sometimes referred to as fog computing, caters to Internet of Things (IoT) devices and relieves the strain of siloed repositories.

Traditionally, data is produced at the edge of the network and transported back to the datacenter. Edge computing processes the data at the source or the edge of the network.

The network edge is any computing and network resource along the path between data sources and cloud data centers.

A clinician’s mobile device is the edge between the patient, who is the data source, and the cloud. A clinician treating a patient with a tablet will be able to enter patient data into the analytics platform at the edge where it is processed and displayed in near real-time. Patients no longer need to wait for analytics results, which may reduce their number of visits.

An IEEE report stated that the rate of growth in data generated from a variety of sources across different applications, along with the rise of real-time applications, makes traditional cloud computing no longer an efficient way to process data produced at the edge of the network.

IEEE Report authors defined edge computing as “enabling technologies allowing computation to be performed at the edge of the network, on downstream data on behalf of cloud services and upstream data on behalf of IoT services. The ‘edge’ is as any computing and network resources along the path between data sources and cloud data centers.”

By keeping the data close to the source, edge computing increases operational efficiency. Edge computing allows end users to access smaller, more specific data instead of accessing information in a centralized, cloud-based infrastructure along with data they will never need to access. 

The increase of IoT devices and organizations putting more computing tasks into the cloud are the two major catalysts for edge computing in healthcare. Edge computing can contribute to analytics and produce results for patients in near real-time so they don’t have to wait and come back for a return visit to know their results.

Blockchain is also a decentralized approach to HIT infrastructure, but focuses more on the exchange of information within an organization and among outside organizations.

Blockchain allows users to exchange information without having it pass through a centralized silo. Each transaction between organizations consists of a block, which holds the data from the current transaction along with a hash linking back to the previous transaction, thus creating a chain. Every transaction is documented and users cannot go back and alter past data.

Organizations in the network all have a copy of the data shared via the blockchain and can see who is accessing the data and why. If the data is accessed by an unauthorized user, the network can instantly detect it and take action to protect the data.

Every organization is required to sign off and approve each transaction, acting as a witness that the transaction was completed as stated. The number of witnesses needed to approve any transaction or update eliminates the need for pre-existing trust between organizations.

Currently, healthcare blockchain is being used for financial transactions with the intention of implementing it for EHRs and other health information. Ideally, decentralizing the way the data is stored and accessed will result in a more secure exchange because there is no single place for a hacker attack to alter or steal information.

Decentralizing HIT infrastructure allows organizations to take advantage of edge devices, taking the strain off centralized IT infrastructure. It also allows organizations to be more organized.

While a decentralized approach is a relatively new concept, it makes sense considering the weight of all the data and applications that are constantly being stored and deployed. Distributing that weight will allow for better efficiency in the long run as IT infrastructures continue to expand.

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