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Open Source Blockchain Development Critical to Standardization

Open source blockchain groups are growing as more healthcare organizations show interest in the technology to securely exchange clinical data.

Open source blockchain standards are critical to healthcare adoption.

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) announced that 34 more organizations have joined its group to help develop an open source blockchain standard.

New members include Cisco, Talkcrypto.org, Technical University of Munich, and MadHive. EEA seeks to bring standardized open source blockchain to all major industries, including healthcare.

Blockchain is the exchange of information between nodes (e.g., users, organizations) via a shared database. There is no regulation of a third party controlling the data through a single silo, leading to the creation of a trusted history of transactions between organizations sharing data.

"EEA's rapid growth in membership mirrors the accelerating acceptance and deployment of Ethereum blockchain solutions in the global marketplace," EEA Chairman of the Board Julio Faura said in a statement.

"The technological breadth, depth and variety of organizations coming together under the auspices of EEA to create and drive enterprise Ethereum standards bodes well for the future development of the next-generation Ethereum ecosystem."

EEA is working on developing a blockchain technology that focuses on privacy, confidentiality, scalability, and security. It is also researching hybrid architectures that cover both permissioned and public Ethereum networks and layer working groups for specific industry applications.

Ethereum is a decentralized platform that runs smart contracts, which are applications that run exactly as programmed without any downtime, censorship, fraud or third-party interference.

“EEA will collectively develop open industry standards and facilitate collaboration with its member base and is open to any members of the Ethereum community who wish to participate,” EEA said in a statement.

“This open source framework will enable the mass adoption at a depth and breadth otherwise unachievable in individual corporate silos and provide insight to the future of scalability, privacy, and confidentiality of the public Ethereum permissionless network.”

Establishing a standard blockchain technology is key for successful interoperability and clinical data sharing.

Several other groups are also working toward developing standardized blockchain technology.

For example, Hyperledger added its first health IT member, Change Healthcare, to its collaborative blockchain project in May 2017.

"Blockchain is a promising and exciting new technology for secure online transactions," Change Healthcare CTO Aaron Symanski said in a statement. "But it's crucial that healthcare leaders step up to champion innovation to help take blockchain from its early implementations to tomorrow's healthcare IT solutions.”

Blockchain is emerging as a secure way to share clinical data and PHI because it eliminates the need for organizations to trust the entities with which they are exchanging information. However, the technology currently lacks the standardization necessary for widescale healthcare deployment.

A recent Tractica report explained why there is so much excitement around healthcare blockchain, and why the technology has yet to be used in healthcare.

“In the last year alone, over a hundred financial institutions, more than two dozen governments, and countless corporations and venture capitalists have invested more than $1 billion into blockchain startups,” report authors explained.

 “But through the fog of hype lies the sobering reality that this is a market of extreme nascence and fragmentation; a notable void of in-production or at-scale implementations; and a lack of regulatory, legal, governance, collaborative, economic, digital, and even cultural precedent.”

The lack of at-scale implementations is why groups like EEA and Hyperledger are important to the future of healthcare blockchain technology. Establishing a standardized technology allows entities to easily exchange information within their organization as well as other organizations using the same blockchain standard.

Developing an open source blockchain standard lets organizations develop a custom blockchain solution, tailor made to their specific needs that is also still compatible with other solutions developed using the same standard.

The open source standard also encourages rapid advancement for the technology as innovators share their custom blockchain solutions with the community.

As healthcare blockchain gains popularity, standardized technology is critical to its success in the healthcare vertical.