“Blockchain” has been all the rage lately. You’ve probably seen and heard the term a lot over the past year or so. But what is blockchain? And what does it have to do with healthcare?
At the Digital Healthcare Innovations Congress held in Boston in August, Roger Smith, the chief technology officer at Florida Hospital Nicholson Center, gave a presentation to help solve the mystery surrounding blockchain.
Blockchain technology involves data. Smith compared blockchain to a water park. On the surface, you see water slides, water flumes, splash pools and more. But underneath these features are the pumps and sensors that make the water features work. In this analogy, blockchain is equated to the pumps and sensors and is what makes data entry and transactions work. Blockchain technology also improves data flow and use by making falsification of information more difficult and eliminating intermediaries in transactions, which can reduce costs and errors.
Because of the often disconnected trail of healthcare data that people leave behind as they go from one healthcare encounter to another, Smith sees four areas where blockchain would be useful in healthcare:
- Billing and insurance
- Drug verification
- Research distribution
Smith says the goal for blockchain technology is to bring together an individual’s healthcare records and place the individual in charge of his/her data, giving the individual the power to share or not share the information. At a doctor visit, for example, a patient can allow the provider to unlock and read that person’s data or create more data and add it to the chain. This connects the person’s data because information from the previous record is incorporated into the new “block” in the chain. This information would be hosted somewhere – but the person would be in charge of organizing his/her own data.
Just as many companies, including startups, have jumped onto the voice technology bandwagon, Smith sees a similar surge of companies working to develop blockchain applications.