- Clinicians and patients are connecting to the network using healthcare Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The increased number of devices connecting to the network can cause security concerns which blockchain may be able to solve in the near future.
Blockchain and IoT are bother relatively new to the healthcare space. The IoT increases data flows that can be overwhelming especially when most of the data is flowing to a centralized location like a data silo. Blockchain can help facilitate IoT data flow by decentralizing it and helping to make the data actionable.
IoT can also take advantage of edge computing, which can help decentralize workflows.
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.
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 act 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.
Taking a decentralized approach to HIT infrastructure can help take the strain off centralized IT systems as organizations look to adopt new technology and take on more data. No matter how organizations widen their bandwidth for data exchange, centralized systems can only withstand so much traffic.
While decentralizing IT systems is a relatively new approach, it caters more towards future IT needs as the amount of data produced by clinicians and patients continues to increase. IoT and blockchain are two emerging technologies that can help organizations begin to decentralize their IT infrastructure.