PART 1 – WHAT IS BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY?
Although innovation has always been a hallmark of the American business landscape, the one market segment that seems to have effectively resisted innovation and change is the healthcare industry – until now. The need for revolutionary and evolutionary change has finally arrived at healthcare, and the previous sense of hesitancy to change is giving way to a true sense of urgency. The need to maintain the decades of high-quality care, combined with the demand to get the skyrocketing costs under control, leads toward a “patient-centric” position away from the traditional “provider-centric.”
High quality customer care is a goal of all businesses; however, when it comes to the field of healthcare, this requirement is materially emphasized as wellness and lives are in the balance. One of the main areas to overcome is that the providers and payers still control most of the decisions that lead to care-service delivery and associated patient medical data.
While focusing on quality health care, the health care services make sure that the patient’s health management is given top priority. Additionally, the federal regulations are not making things any easier because they have really put the pressure on the health sector to provide effective patient care. To make this an absolute reality, it is important to remove the middlemen dependency. This is where Blockchain comes into the picture.
In this article, we will look at some of the benefits of Blockchain with respect to its influence in the healthcare industry. In simple words, Blockchain is a highly encrypted process that utilizes a distributed ledger (distributed relational database) for record storage. The access authentication, tracking, and validation is handled in the Blockchain that ‘governs’ access to the data records and can keep track of transactions happening across many machines. Blockchains’ immutability does not permit retroactive changes (or “corrections”) of records – no overwrite or replacement. Only by altering subsequent blocks ‘in the chain’ can the unity of transactions, and thereby the ‘trust,’ be maintained. In other words, once it is written it cannot be changed – not by the owner or originator however, one can enter subsequent documentation to append to or annotate the record.
Although Blockchain technology has been around for nearly 20 years, it has only recently seen commercial application, and that is largely due to the substantial increases in computational ability of the typical computer. Blockchain can be very powerful and can improve the quality of patient care and reduce cost. One of the best things about Blockchain technology is that it can remove the challenges that come with validation, verification, and authentication at multiple levels while increasing the security.
How Does the ‘Blockchain’ Work?
Blockchains are built on a “distributed architecture” that provides access to relevant data records stored and arranged chronologically. This technology works on the “append only” open ledger where the nodes within the network are authenticated, and all the transactions that happen within this network must be added to the ledger. This creates a form of “trust” among the nodes, or blocks, that when combined with in an “append only” process, creates a securely encrypted system for data record retention.
Blockchain technology is based on three (3) major principles that are not at all new. In fact, these concepts have been around for a long time, as I said Blockchain is really 20 years old. Through this technology, a Blockchain application simply arranges them together to create secure safe and secure digital relationships.
- Private key cryptography – A secure (typically 256 kb) digital identity reference with transactions conducted on the open network.
- Distributed ledgers – Copies of the ledgers are always maintained. Changes made in the ledgers are reflected within seconds. Most distributed ledgers utilize the Interplanetary File System (IPFS) to ensure a higher degree of data integrity.
- Authentication – Each new transaction must be authenticated before being appended and before ledgers are added to the chain. This is accomplished by running algorithms to evaluate and verify all the proposed transactions. Thus, the information is encrypted, digitally signed, stored, and sealed ensuring authenticity.
Safety and security of the transactions are ensured because all the members in the network keep a complete copy of the Blockchain, consequently making it impossible for a single member to make changes or alter data without consent of the entire “chain.” This unique form of democratization of records not imagined in the data management field until now.
Though it is a new technology that is new on the scene, it hasn’t taken long for Blockchain applications to be developed and successfully used beyond the healthcare industry. It has many practical use cases, and its range of applications is still being expanded. Blockchain applications now act as self-management platforms for:
- Financial Services – To solve the problem posed by traditional systems as they could turn error-prone, maddeningly slow and cumbersome.
- Asset Management – Reducing the errors when encrypting the records used in trade processes.
- Insurance – Especially in the field of claims processing, to fight fraudulent claims, abandoned policies, etc.
- Music Industry – Focusing on ownership rights, royalty distribution, etc.
- Supply Chain Sensors – End to end visibility of the supply chain is guaranteed.
- Smart Appliances – Users enjoy more control over their devices.
More to come in Part 2.