Can blockchain technology solve healthcare IT security and interoperability challenges?

On March 20-21, 2017, multiple healthcare technology companies came together in Washington, D.C. to host The Healthcare Blockchain Summit.  Blockchain, the technology that underpins bitcoin technology, keeps data secure in a “distributed, encrypted ledger” while allowing control over who can access that ledger.  This is the hottest technology being discussed today as a way to secure confidential or sensitive data.

The on-line technology publication, Wired, describes blockchain’s security method in a February 1, 2017 article as follows: “Rather than having one central administrator that acts as a gatekeeper to data—a list of digital transactions—there’s one shared ledger, but it’s spread across a network of synchronized, replicated databases visible to anyone with access. Which gives it unprecedented security benefits. Hacking one block in the chain is impossible without simultaneously hacking every other block in the chain’s chronology.”  See “Moving Patient Data Is Messy, But Blockchain Is Here to Help,” WIRED, Feb. 1, 2017.

Healthcare IT developers are signing on to explore the use of blockchain to address the challenges in both securing healthcare data and making electronic healthcare records interoperable.  The Summit’s Overview summarized blockchain’s possibilities this way:

2015-2016 saw a record number of security breaches involving health data that have made health IT vendors stand up and take note of how much work needs to be done on the cybersecurity front to make health data secure. Blockchain offers one potential solution to this challenge. Interoperability and the need to connect data silos for more seamless delivery systems and improved patient safety also fall within the realm of emerging blockchain solutions. From employee wellness programs that address the need for privacy of data to peer-to-peer insurance models, blockchain offers the opportunity to develop new business models. Many of the activities in the financial sector that address identity management systems have analogous applications in healthcare.

On March 20, 2017, Healthcare IT News announced that IBM has unveiled a cloud-based, enterprise-ready blockchain service for Linux Foundation’s open source Hyperledger Fabric*.  The service offering includes governance and developer tools.  IBM Blockchain general manager Marie Wieck cautioned, however, that “blockchain networks are only as safe as the infrastructures on which they reside.” (*The Hyperledger Healthcare Working Group was formed in 2016 and includes healthcare and technology companies such as Accenture, Gem, Hashed Health, Kaiser Permanente and IBM.)

Additional blockchain summits, conferences and one-day programs are popping up all over.  Just last week, The Chamber of Digital Commerce, together with Georgetown University, hosted the DC BLOCKCHAIN SUMMIT in Washington, D.C. (March 15-16, 2017). In conjunction with the DC Blockchain Summit, The Chamber collaborated with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to co-host a health standards and data innovation Code-a-Thon.  The Code-A-Thon challenged contestants to create blockchain and distributed ledger technology-based applications and solutions for the healthcare industry.  Read more about the HHS ONC Code-a-Thon here.

The MIT Media Lab is hosting a daylong blockchain program that will feature pioneers in blockchain technology.  MIT Media Lab sums up blockchain technology this way: “[B]lockchains won’t be something consumers see very often. But they’ll be something that every business and organization will need to consider if it wants to operate efficiently and in partnership with other organizations.”  The Business of Blockchain program will be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on April 18, 2017.

So, shall we just say, “Stay tuned!

Leave a reply. Please note that although this blog may be helpful in informing clients and others who have an interest in information privacy and security, it is not intended to be legal advice. The information on this blog also should not be relied upon to form an attorney-client relationship.

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