This article looks at the core features of blockchain technology, the various applications of blockchain in healthcare, and the challenges that need to be overcome.From relative obscurity to mass popularity, blockchain technology has come a long way since it was first described in a research paper by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta.A large share of the credit for this goes to the world’s first and most famous cryptocurrency, Bitcoin.In recent years, even as the interest in Bitcoin somewhat wanes, the interest in Blockchain has picked up tremendously. Several industries are undertaking research and development in this field. While the Banking and Financial Services industry is a trailblazer in this field, others are also catching up.Healthcare is one such industry. As per an IBM report, 16% of healthcare respondents expected to have a commercial healthcare application for blockchains 2017. A more recent report by PwC stated that 49% of the 74 global healthcare companies it contacted are developing, piloting or implementing blockchain targets.Given the scale of adoption and its potential to disrupt, it is high time that those healthcare firms that have not yet explored blockchain tech to start researching it soon. In this article, we’ll discuss various potential use cases of this technology for various stakeholders in the healthcare industry.
The Basics of Blockchain
A blockchain is a record of information, called a ledger, that is distributed across many different devices instead of being stored at a single, central point. All the users on a blockchain network, known as “nodes” have copies of this ledger.Information is added to this ledger in the form of blocks. Each block consists of a large set of individual information (in the case of Bitcoin, these are individual transactions). This block is then encrypted using an algorithm called a “hashing function.” This function generates a unique fingerprint for the block, called a “hash”.It is then shared with the blockchain network for validation. If a consensus is reached about the validity of the block, it is added to the chain.In order to maintain the sequence of data, each block contains the hash of the previous block, thus creating the chain.
The major features of blockchains are:Consistency – each node on the blockchain possesses the exact same copy of the data Transparency – it is easy to track changes being made to the information on the blockchain Decentralization – information is distributed across a wider network instead of being centralized Immutability – it is extremely difficult to edit information already added to the chain Security – encryption and access-control features ensure that users can control who has access to their data Consensus – information can only be added if a majority of nodes verify it, reducing the risk of adding incorrect/invalid information Smart contracts – they offer the capability to automatically carry out actions if certain conditions are met