By Nikki Collins

As advances in technology sky rocket and continue to occur at logarithmic speeds, security is a major concern as well as efficiency.  You may have heard of the trend to move our one server companies into the next phase of secure, efficient computing with something called blockchain technology.  Most people that are familiar with this term think of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency; however, many other industries (besides finance) are using or preparing to use this technology.  Some people believe it will be the internet of the 21st century.  Meaning, blockchain is where the future is headed.

The blockchain represents a digital ledger that monitors all transactions whether financial or otherwise and uses a network of computers creating more of a peer- to-peer network instead of a central server.  The peer-to-peer concept works well when people are incentivized for their participation in mining or adding blocks of information to the blockchain. Who adds data to the blockchain and whether they are incentivized is just one of the many hurdles businesses face when implementing this new technology.  This new infrastructure will take time and well thought out plan of actions before becoming a main stream reality.

Not every sector is in need of blockchain technology since it wouldn’t enhance their business at the current time.  In the healthcare sector; however, blockchain could be the answer to several issues that often arise.  One such issue is the need for one data sharing source vs. the many databases and entities involved in storing medical info such as: patient metadata, clinical trials, and research results.

A current problem government agencies such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deal with on a daily basis is that personally identifiable information (PII) can’t be stored in the cloud making it very inefficient to get the data to those that need it in a timely manner.  Jim Nasr, a software architect working at the CDC, believes blockchain would make storing and sharing patient data easier without the existing security risk.

Having one source of data would benefit both people in the medical field itself as well as the patients.  We visit so many different types of doctors and move from town to town where our medical data doesn’t follow.  MedRec is a company attempting to empower people by keeping all of their medical information in one place using blockchain technology.  Patients could choose to authorize anyone new to view their record as needed.  Empowering the patient is key, but making the entire system more secure, efficient, and transparent is just as important.

We have all heard of and/or probably become victim to data breaches, whether from a department store, credit reporting agency, or healthcare agency.  Blockchain technology has the potential to make data more secure.  IBM is working on updating the Internet of Things (IoT) to include blockchain by improving the security of private patient data that comes from medical monitoring devices. Connecting all of our medical devices using IoT is convenient, but we shouldn’t have to lose sleep at night worrying about our security in the process.

Nebula Genomics is another company using blockchain to empower patients when it comes to their genomic data, specifically.  With all of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing options nowadays and even more individual data being sold in ways we never imagined or agreed to in the first place, Nebula has found a way to bypass the DTC and allow patients the authority to use their personal genomic data how they see fit.  Even better, you will get paid in Nebula tokens when you participate in this data exchange.

This article briefly describes a few companies and ways that blockchain can aid in healthcare.  There are many exciting and innovating solutions to setbacks in healthcare capitalizing on blockchain technology.  It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing these solutions in real-time.  According to a Forbes article in late 2017, 56% of the surveyed healthcare executives believe some of these solutions will be implemented by 2020.

Nikki Collins is a freelance writer and scientist. Her scientific experience ranges from academic research at IU School of Medicine to the public health arena working in institutions such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When not in a lab or at a computer, she enjoys almost anything outdoors, dance, and reading.