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What Stands in the Way of Healthcare Blockchain Adoption?

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  • What Stands in the Way of Healthcare Blockchain Adoption?

    There are some problems that must be resolved before blockchain can become the panacea for secure access to healthcare medical records.

    What is blockchain?
    Blockchain technology is a ledger-based technology that has traditionally been used in banking and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. Blockchain stores information in batches or transactions call blocks. Each addition, deletion or modification of this data is composed of an additional block. These ledger entries are linked together in a “chain of blocks.”

    Blockchain was designed to be decentralized and distributed across a large network of computers. There were two purposes for this decentralization; the first being redundant storage to ensure data is not lost and the second to ensure there is “trust in the data”. This trust is first created by the initial computer solving a crypto puzzle. This crypto answer is then shared with all other computers on the network, this is called “proof-of-work.” The computers in this network all verify the initial proof-of-work and if correct the new block will be added to the chain. The combination of these complex math puzzles and the verification by many computers provides trust for each block in the chain.

    Why is healthcare adopting blockchain?
    The healthcare industry started looking carefully at blockchain technology many years ago as a way of ensuring confidentiality, integrity and availability of health data. Rising attacks by cyber-criminals and nation-state hackers has compounded the urgency for increased protection of PII, PHI and clinical research. Recent cyber-attacks against medical research facilities working on COVID-19 vaccines underlines this urgency.

    In 2017, the US FDA partnered with IBM Watson to develop a secure exchange of medical record data utilizing blockchain, In 2018, Mount Sinai opened a center for Biomedical Blockchain research to evaluate its own medical research programs and its partnerships and eMQT utilized blockchain to study the results of their sequencing of DNA from thousands of Africans with sickle cell disease.

    The Healthcare industry is constantly working to increase the stability and comprehensive nature of their EMR systems. Blockchain offers secure and complete access to a patient’s global medical records. This combined need for transparency and security are at times in conflict with each other. Blockchain technology offers a means to reach both goals without impacting the other.

    The security aspect is covered by the fact that every node in the network must verify and record any changes to the medical record. This means that if someone wanted to tamper with the data, they would have to control every computer in that network.

    The fact that the medical record data is stored across so many network nodes assures access to that data for the patient’s provider. A single server’s downtime will not impact patient care.

    More importantly, since the medical data belongs to the patient, each patient can decide who should have access to it at any given time. This control of their own data empowers patients to play a greater role in their own care.

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