Blockchain has been all the rage lately. As previously reported, Gartner has hyped it as a strategic technology trend for 2018, as it evolves from a digital-currency infrastructure into a platform for digital transformation. Gartner says blockchain potentially holds promise for government, manufacturing, media-distribution, identity-verification, title-registry, supply-chain, and healthcare applications.
With regard to this last application area, blockchain may help the sprawling U.S. healthcare industry manage patient information, according to Ana Santos Rutschman, an assistant professor of law at Saint Louis University.
“In Boston alone, medical offices use more than two dozen systems for keeping electronic health records,” she writes at WBUR CommonHealth. “None of them can directly communicate with any of the others, and all of them present opportunities for hackers to steal, delete, or modify records either individually or en masse.”
Her work on healthcare innovation at the Center for Health Law Studies at Saint Louis University School of Law suggests blockchain may have a role to play in addressing the weaknesses in today’s health care record-keeping.
Rutschman writes that blockchain could keep years of patient data secure while making errors easy to correct. “Patients themselves could review, update, and even add new information they collect or observe about their own conditions,” she notes. “Both hacking and fraud would be extremely difficult.”
She cites several initiatives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, are developing blockchain-based systems to share data on pathogens, analyze outbreaks, and manage the response to public-health crises. Pfizer and other drugmakers have announced support for the MediLedger blockchain platform in an effort to keep counterfeit goods out of the medical supply chain. And five large U.S. health-care companies have started using a blockchain system to collect data on health-care providers’ demographics.
But Europe is taking the lead. “In 2016, the European Union began funding a multinational collaboration with privacy companies and leading research universities to build a blockchain system that would aggregate and share biomedical information between health care organizations and individual patients all across the EU,” Rutschman writes. And Sweden is rolling out a blockchain healthcare platform called CareChain—billed as “infrastructure that is owned and controlled by no one and everyone.” Finally, Estonia has been using blockchain technology since 2012 to secure healthcare data.
“That’s a future the U.S. could look forward to, as it experiments on its own and learns from the experience of these existing projects,” Rutschman concludes.