The Blockchain in Healthcare

 

Today we have a world-wide web of information. We send information as a complete package, like a document or PDF. That single piece of information is typically stored on a server somewhere. And that server is typically owned or managed by one individual or company.

The problem with individual pieces of information stored in one place, as we have all seen, is that sometimes the entities can be hacked and our personal information might end up in the wrong hands.

These individual entities capture data, have complete control over our data, and have access to our privacy. For example, in healthcare our insurance company, providers, and hospitals each have various pieces of information about us. Our personal health record is scattered about among various entities. And each of those entities has our data on their servers, whether hosted by them or somebody else. It is really difficult today to build and have access to our entire personal health record.

But what if we did? The concept of the blockchain gives us an opportunity to do that. Here’s how it works.

What if those pieces of data about us – let’s call them assets – are not stored in one place but distributed across a vast network of computers using the highest level of cryptography? In other words, one piece of information is broken up and stored in multiple places rather than one hackable place. These pieces, or links in the chain can be spread across millions of computers in what is called one blockchain.

And the cool thing is, the owner of the information (you or me) can have complete control over how that information is used and shared without the services or permissions of other entities. If all my data were stored in a blockchain, that is securely distributed among many computers, and I was the only person that had the authority to share pieces of that, that would be ideal.

Each of the entities that participate in my healthcare can still maintain their data in their format on their servers. The blockchain could be an ideal way to solve interoperability challenges we face today by gathering pertinent information about us from each of those entities to build our personal health record in one cohesive place. This could be a much faster path than data sharing directly among those entities.

You can probably imagine how handy it would be for me to have my own personal health record, which is a compilation of all my doctor visits, hospital stays, medications and lab results. I could use any portion of that personal health record however I like. I could share just pieces of it with family. I could decide which family members should see which data. I could have that information follow me in case I’m snowboarding somewhere, get injured, and make that data immediately available to the local care provider. And I can have a personal health record “build up” as it were, as I connect wearables and track my movement on my smart phone or GPS device. If I chose to, I can have certain information sent to an app on my phone that makes recommendations for healthy living. In fact, why not make some of my health record accessible to medical research groups if I’m comfortable doing so?

It would be awesome to know that my personal health record is stored securely, knowing I can access parts or all of it at any time – using the blockchain.


Andy Gaudette is Senior Vice President at HMS. As a software architect and solution engineer, he is passionate about finding ways to help consumers improve their own healthcare.