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Healthcare Blockchain Set to Digitally Transform Health IT

Healthcare blockchain show potential for security and interoperability as vendors and organization seek technology standardization.

Healthcare blockchain increases security and interoperability.

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare blockchain is gaining interest as organizations seek alternative ways to protect and share clinical data. Blockchain has piqued the interest of many organizations seeking a better way to efficiently store and share data.

A recent Frost and Sullivan report predicted that healthcare blockchain ecosystems involving health data exchanges, smart assets management, insurance, and payment solutions will emerge significantly over the next five to 10 years.

“On-going digital democratization of care delivery models towards a much-anticipated personalized and outcome-based treatment paradigm will be the major impetus for blockchain adoption,” report authors stated. “Furthermore, the convergence of blockchain with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, mHealth and Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) provides new opportunities to explore digital health economies.”

Blockchain does not eliminate the need for traditional security measures, but it does not rely on cybersecurity systems and firewalls to keep data safe and protected. Blockchain depends heavily on digital identity for security and authentication, which is difficult to fake in a decentralized system.

Blockchain is the exchange of information between nodes (e.g., users, organizations) via a shared database without the regulation of a third party controlling the data through a single silo. It leads to the creation of a trusted history of transactions between organizations sharing data.

READ MORE: Blockchain Vendor Efforts Center on IoT in IT Infrastructure

Each transaction between organizations consists of a block that holds the data from the current transaction along with a hash linking back to the previous transaction, 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 witnesses 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.

Decentralizing healthcare data exchanges and interactions gives all participating organizations control and visibility of the data at all times, ensuring its authenticity. The healthcare industry can benefit greatly from this type on control when it comes to value-based care and reimbursement models.

"Burgeoning connected health devices and the need to protect against data breaches make blockchain, with its ubiquitous security infrastructure, the obvious foundation for emerging digital health workflows and advanced healthcare interoperability,” Transformational Health Industry Analyst Kamaljit Behera commented on the Frost and Sullivan report.  

READ MORE: What Does Blockchain Mean for Health IT Infrastructure?

“It creates an additional trust layer through unique distributed network consensus that uses cryptography techniques to minimize cyber threats," Behera continued.

"Blockchain technology may not be the panacea for healthcare industry challenges needs but it holds the potential to save billions of dollars by optimizing current workflows and disintermediating some high-cost gatekeepers."

Blockchain has yet to be deployed in a healthcare setting, but its potential is promising. Vendors and healthcare organizations are currently seeking blockchain standards that will allow large-scale implementation.

"The healthcare industry needs to establish blockchain consortia to facilitate partnerships and create standards for future implementation on a large scale across healthcare use cases," said Behera. "A blockchain-based system will enable unprecedented collaboration, bolstering innovation in medical research and the execution of larger healthcare concepts such as precision medicine and population health management.”

“In IoMT, it can settle security, privacy and reliability concerns to allow integration of health data from Internet of Medical Things (IoT) or medical devices for remote and autonomous monitoring,” Behera added. “In the pharmaceutical industry, the technology can potentially save $200 billion by inhibiting counterfeit and substandard drugs."

READ MORE: Healthcare Blockchain Relies on Industry Standardization

The IEEE is currently working with vendors and organizations across all major industries in an attempt to standardize blockchain technology and digital identification.

The IEEE’s Digital Inclusion through Trust and Agency centers mostly on the emergence of blockchain technology. In particular, it focuses on how users are held accountable by all participants in the blockchain while still maintaining secure information and necessary privacy.

Healthcare organizations are still in need of a secure way to successfully exchange information within and outside of the organizations. Decentralizing information storage and focusing on digital identity rather than centralized cybersecurity can potentially save organizations time and improve innovations through safe and compatible file sharing.