Blockchain Explained by a Public Health Nerd

When chatting with friends and family, colleagues, or out networking and meeting new people, most conversations these days are talking about what I’ve been up to in research, life post grad, public health, and blockchain.

Wait, blockchain? (record scratch).


Once I mention that I have been working on projects within blockchain, I always get hit with, “Blockchain?- What’s that? , or , “I’ve heard of blockchain, but I still have no clue what it is.”

So, what is Blockchain?

Do a quick search of “blockchain” and you will come across many descriptions and definitions, all very different. Then you start adding in words like distributed, immutable, cryptocurrencies, Ethereum, hyperledger, tokens, bitcoin-it’s like word soup.

“A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography…an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.”

“Blockchain is a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions.”

“An electronic database of transactions, whereby new deals are added to the chain and the stamped and protected with a mathematical equation.”

“Blockchain technology is used in a peer-to-peer network of parties, who all participate in a given transaction.”

Okay, so what does it all mean? This all seems like something straight out of a sci-fi novel.

As I myself have had many of these questions, one of the simplest ways I’ve had it described to me is that simply put-it is like a group text message. It also isn’t hot sauce (you can read more about that here).

Group text message-got it-oh wait, actually tell me more…

We all love a good meme or gif, and even more so, we love sharing them with friends in group chats. Ever make a mistake and send a wrong text, embarrassing photo out to the group? Whoops! Just delete it right? Well…

This is where blockchain comes in. All the data shared through the group text messages, yes including that embarrassing photo is just that-data. This data is recorded and shared (distributed) on the ledger.

Okay, so now what does this thing that is like a group text message have to do with public health, health care, research, etc. ?

Actually, it has a lot to do with public health and healthcare. Including tracking disease outbreaks, food-borne illnesses, securing and distributing health records, patient access to medical records, helping the unbanked, providing a form of identification for refugees to digital health tools. However, blockchain is not a cure-all and not everything requires the use of blockchain. Remember, it is not hot sauce. (“Misconceptions around Blockchain and What it Will not Solve in Healthcare” )

Phew! I still feel overwhelmed and I kinda, sorta get it. Where can I learn more?

There are some really great resources to help you learn and gain a better understanding. Here are a few great resources to help get you started.

Blockchain Library

A Gentle Introduction to Blockchain

Blockchain in Healthcare Webinar Series hosted by Heather Flannery

Faces of Digital Health Podcast hosted by Tjasa Zajc

Blockchain in Healthcare: How Fast Could it Be Applied?

“Science will be blockchained by 2025” by Sean Manion

A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Blockchain

Want to learn more along with me as I journey into the world of Blockchain in health? Follow me @graytrDrPHc on twitter or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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