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What’s the deal with the blockchain buzz? Maybe you’ve heard of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum but aren’t quite sure how blockchain works. Or maybe you’re currently exploring a new application of the technology. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of familiarity, you’ve noticed that people are talking, and they’re talking about blockchain.
“Right now we live in a centralized world, but a decentralized world is a peer-to-peer world.”
Kristen Johns is a patent attorney with the IP group at Waller Law. She’s fascinated by the regulatory implications of blockchain and has been studying the technology and its potential applications for the past year. When breaking down blockchain, she finds it helpful to start with its technical name: distributed ledger technology. Distributed refers to the decentralized nature of the technology. As Johns put it, “Right now we live in a centralized world, but a decentralized world is a peer-to-peer world.”
This is revolutionary because it means that no single entity has complete custody of the transactional data. Think back to the Target credit card hack. Target alone had control over those credit card numbers. Hackers were able to gain access to the data through a single infiltration, affecting the retailer and millions of consumers in the process.
IT departments around the world are continually working to protect their company’s data stores from hackers, but blockchain can eliminate the the very possibility of these instances of fraud. With blockchain, all transactional partners have their own copy of the ledger, or record of transactions. Every copy of the ledger is continuously in sync with the others, and no single party can change recorded transactions, greatly increasing security. This is huge.
Johns was careful to note that the technology is not yet invincible. Just last year, a hacker siphoned $50 million in the digital currency, Ether, from an experimental project, proving the necessity of further development. Blockchain technology is still evolving, and the excitement is in its potential. In her opinion, it will be another 5 to 10 years before we see explosive use of the technology. But it’s coming, and it’s coming to several industries, including healthcare.
Already, companies like Hashed Health in Nashville and Patientory in Atlanta are applying blockchain technology to healthcare problems. Hashed Health, for example, has created a Health Provider Identity Management working group to explore blockchain’s potential to attack inefficiency in areas like provider credentialing, provider directories for health plans, and global health. Patientory, on the other hand, is a blockchain-based electronic medical record network. Johns hopes that established healthcare companies will also explore blockchain technology in driving internal innovation.
As the field becomes more crowded, it will be interesting to see what works, what doesn’t, and how healthcare changes as a result of blockchain applications. As Johns clarified, “There is no the blockchain, just a blockchain” — -one application of many, and many more to come.