In the winter of 2017, the world was captivated by the rise
and fall of Bitcoin. Every night during its historic rise, local
news ran rags-to-riches
stories of basement investors who had cashed out at the right time.
Every day, bloggers, tech journalists, and finance journalists tried to diagnose
the market and divine what portents this fluctuation may hold for
the future. Even before Bitcoin hit its fever pitch in December of 2017, the
national conversation focused on the technology powering it – Blockchain. Intrigued
by the success of Bitcoin, industry leaders sought to understand Blockchain’s structure,
potential, and capabilities. Although the Bitcoin craze eventually came to an
end, the conversation over Blockchain continues and it is now positioned to
make inroads into the healthcare industry.
Blockchain, in its modern form, was
created in the fallout of the 2008 financial crises. It is “[a] digital
record or ledger [mini database] that is structured as a series of blocks that
are strung together in a chain. Each block—a digital expression of a
transaction or an event—is validated by multiple computers on the internet.”
Blockchain is also highly secure by distributing “blockchains” to millions
of computers, creating a decentralized
This combined ability to both secure and share files
simultaneously makes Blockchain an attractive new frontier for the healthcare industry.
healthcare providers such as Cigna, Aetna, and Sentara Health have
signed onto Blockchain pilot programs; even Apple
signaled interest in Blockchain applications. In
2018, 45% of the healthcare industry experimented with Blockchain
applications and 11% of the industry deployed Blockchain applications for use
in business. By 2025, it is projected that 55%
“of healthcare applications will have adopted Blockchain for commercial
This growing trend of Blockchain’s presence in healthcare is
due to the enormous benefits the system presents. Cognizant’s
2017 report, “Healthcare: Blockchain’s Curative Potential for
Healthcare Efficiency and Quality,” identifies top benefits that healthcare
organizations could gain through its implementation, such as strengthened data
security and improved interoperability. As Cognizant’s
report states, “Blockchain technology enhances privacy through
modern public key encryption techniques, reinforces data integrity with its
properties of immutability, and improves security with its decentralized data
model” allowing for improved patient care through data interoperability between
different care providers. Deloitte’s 2018 global Blockchain
survey also identifies areas where Blockchain will provide
significant value, such as disintermediation, transparency and auditability,
and industry collaboration.
These advantages present
solutions to long-standing problems that have plagued the industry’s
ability to modernize, specifically the ability to digitize
patient records into Electronic Health Records. Blockchain’s decentralized
data also provides a single authoritative source for patient records resulting
in lower cost for patients, better collaboration between professionals, and
increased efficiency for providers. Full realization of these benefits has the
potential to revolutionize and modernize the healthcare industry and drastically
increase the quality of care that patients receive.
Yet Blockchain’s real world implementation highlighted some operational hurdles. The Mayor’s office of Austin, Texas undertook a project called the “MyPass Initiative” to utilize Blockchain technology to improve the city’s homeless services by replacing paper records with “electronic encrypted records that would be more reliable and secure.” The initiative aims to “consolidate the identity and vital records of each homeless person in a safe and confidential way while providing a means for service providers to access that information.” Yet the program faces difficulties such as social buy-in and a reliable way to connect a person with an identity, which can hamper full implementation and in turn preclude the complete realization of the initiative’s benefits. These challenges are not insurmountable and overcoming them will pave the way for larger implementation of Blockchain technology in fields such as healthcare.
Blockchain’s utilization in healthcare is nowhere near complete, but its capabilities and potential operational effectiveness are becoming clear to industry leaders. Its promise to improve patient care through better interoperability, heightened data security, and lower cost is a benefit that the healthcare industry has long been looking to provide to patients. With growing industry engagement with Blockchain technologies and continued innovative pilot programs, such as Austin’s MyPass Initiative, we move ever closer to realizing Blockchain’s promise for the future of healthcare.