Ep. 14: Blockchain in Healthcare: How and How Fast Could It Be Applied?

Tjaša Zajc
Jul 10, 2017 · 4 min read

In this podcast, two brilliant women explain applications of blockchain in healthcare.

The first expert you are about to hear from is Nadia Thibault Diakun, Adjunct Lecturer with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, North Carolina State University.

She was in the team of researches that wrote the whitepaper Blockchain and Health IT: Algorithms, Privacy, and Data.

Because there’s so much buzz going on around blockchain and because it at least looks promising in some aspects American Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT organized a competiton last year. They were searching for whitepapers on the Use of Blockchain in Health IT and Health-Related Research. The paper submitted by the team with Nadia, was among the 15 winners of the competition.

The second part of the podcast is an interview with Chrissa McFarlane, CEO and Founder of Patientory. The young startup raised 7,2 million dollars through a so-called ICO — Initial Coin Offering. What’s next?

Image for post
Image for post
Patientory Schematic

The questions addressed in the podcast are:

  1. What and where are are the biggest possible potentials for blockchain and where could it bring most benefit?
  2. What is the difference between a blockchain and already existing platforms aimed at connecting different healthcare providers?
  3. How does the idea of blockchain technology in healthcare differ from the idea of a uniform EHR system that would solve the problem of interoperability?
  4. What are the downsides/dangers of blockchain in healthcare?
  5. Who decides, who can get included in a blockchain?
  6. In May, the Wannacry virus, which compromised many IT systems around the globe, also hit many hospitals in the UK; apart from the confusion, procedures were canceled, work impossible for a while. How would this scenario be different if the hospitals were using a blockchain solution for data storage?

… and more!

Back to basics: what is blockchain and how does it work?

The most basic concepts to know to understand blockchain are:

1. A transaction.

2. A block.

3. A hash.

4. A smart contract.

A blockchain it a distributed database/ledger which maintains a continuously growing list of records — blocks. Each block consists of transactions. In the financial industry a transaction is a money transfer for example. In healthcare a transaction is an electronic prescription for example.

For basic understanding of blockchain application see this video by Future Thinkers:

Chain of blocks

Once a transaction is sent to the blockchain, you can’t change or delete it. It’s there. To make transactions well organised and even safer, they are merged in blocks.

Each block is a set of transactions. Blocks are like boxes: when one block is filled, the next one gets filled. And when a block is filled, it is hashed. If you’re like me, you’re going ask yourself: what is a hash? A hash is a digital fingerprint or unique identifier.

Hashes are one of the things contributing to high reliability and security of data in the blockchain. Each new block in the blockchain is linked to the previous block through the hash. This is what prevents any block from being altered or a blockchain being inserted between two existing blocks.

Image for post
Image for post
Source: http://blockchain.open.ac.uk/

So in brief, very simplified way: a blockchain is a distributed ledger of data. It is very safe because of it’s immutability. Immutability is appealing, because it brings transparency. Among other things.

No single point of failure!

Another important thing contributing to the security and appeal of the blockchain is the fact that blockchain is a distributed network. All the parties in the network are connected to the ledger, and all parties hold copies of what is in the network. Consequently it is basically impossible for a cyberattack or a virus to damage data stored in a blockchain, because there is no central person or system that could be targeted and compromised.

ICOs

ICO is an unregulated way of fundraising for cryptocurrency ventures. A company invents their coins/tokens. You can buy them with legal, existing cryptocurrencies.

In a simplified sense coins remind of stocks in a sense that if a company becomes successful, the token value can grow. Buying coins is an investment, lately extremely popular. .It’s practical for startups, because they don’t have to deal with banks and investors and don’t have to give up equity in exchange for funding. I talked to Chrissa about the idea behind Patientory, how developed the solution is at the moment and why she believes this is the next big thing in healthcare.

You can find, listen and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or Podbean, or use the RSS feed. Suggestions, comments will be highly appreciated either here or onTwitter.

Comments, suggestions welcome at: tjasa.zajc@finance.si or @zajctjasa

Faces Of Digital Health

Faces of Digital Health (ex Medicine Today on Digital…

Tjaša Zajc

Written by

Faces Of Digital Health

Faces of Digital Health (ex Medicine Today on Digital Health) is a podcast about digital health, exploring how different healthcare system adopt technologies in healthcare. It’s mission is to share insights for global healthcare improvements.

Tjaša Zajc

Written by

Faces Of Digital Health

Faces of Digital Health (ex Medicine Today on Digital Health) is a podcast about digital health, exploring how different healthcare system adopt technologies in healthcare. It’s mission is to share insights for global healthcare improvements.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store