Blockchain and Healthcare

January 23, 2018
Anne Kimbol, Director of Compliance Services, Texas Health Services Authority

Blockchain, a newish technology designed to create electronic ledgers for financial transactions without maintaining a centralized record, is increasingly coming into the healthcare sphere.

According to people much more technically savvy than I am, “blockchain uses public key cryptographic techniques to create an append-only, immutable, time-stamped chain of content. Copies of the blockchain are distributed on each participating node in the network.”[1]

The reach on blockchain in healthcare is going from theory to practice. In 2016, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology issued a blockchain challenge and awarded 15 white papers as winners.[2] Also 2016, MIT Media Lab and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center tested blockchain for medication reconciliation.[3] Blockchain in healthcare is now big enough that, starting this year, there will be an online, peer reviewed magazine called Blockchain in Healthcare Today, edited by John Halamka, MD.[4]

On January 3, 2017, a blockchain startup, Akiri, announced that it had received $10 million in funding from Health2047 an entity that supplies funding to innovative ideas in healthcare and is backed by, among others, the American Medical Association.[5]  Akiri is, “an invitation-only, subscription-based, private network. Rather than store health information, it will be able to transmit data among healthcare organizations through a standardized system of codes.”[6]

While it is saying the platform, Akiri Switch, is not an electronic health record (EHR) or health information exchange (HIE),[7] it is hard to tell what else it could be. A scalable platform that shares health data to subscribers using a secure system where information is stored by the appropriate subscribers sounds a lot like an EHR/HIE combination. What remains to be seen is how successful the network will be and whether the implied endorsement from the AMA will convince doctors to try this new technology, regardless of whether they understand how it works or how it is really different, if it is, from an EHR or HIE. If blockchain can truly solve health’s privacy and security issues, this would certainly be a win for patients and providers alike, but a lot remains to be seen.

 


[1] John Halamka, MD, Andrew Lippman, and Ariek Ekblaw, The Potential for Blockchain to Transform Electronic Health Records, Harvard Business Review, March 3, 2017.
[2] https://www.healthit.gov/newsroom/blockchain-challenge
[3] Supra note 1.
[4] David Raths, Halamka Named Editor of Blockchain Journal, Healthcare Informatics, November 28, 2017, https://www.healthcare-informatics.com/news-item/interoperability/halamka-named-editor-blockchain-journal
[5] Bill Siwicki, Blockchain network-as-a-service platform scores $10 million from AMA-backed Health2047, Healthcare IT News, January 3, 2018.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.

 

Blockchain & Healthcare