On May 16th, digital healthcare professionals wanting to learn more about Blockchain specific to the medical sector attended a panel and Q & A session to understand how this disruptive technology operates, along with its potential benefits.
Blockchain was first introduced in 2008 with the notion that there is a market for people who no longer wish to complete transactions where they are required to go through an intermediary, but rather to engage in peer-to-peer data sharing and collaboration. Enter Blockchain, a database storage technology that is “secure, distributed and shareable,” as characterized by Diego Espinosa, founder and CEO of Healthcoin.
“A lot of times when data is secure, it’s not sharable and when it’s shareable, it’s not secure,” says Espinosa. “Usually when they’re secure, they’re not distributed. If something is distributed, it’s not secure. So Blockchain is able to pull all those things together and that means that it’s really good for sharing data to collaborate.”
In essence, Blockchain acts as a decentralized database, or as Espinosa specifies, “a true peer-to-peer distributed ledger,” and points out that no one actually owns a blockchain, which enhances the ability to collaborate.
The notion of collaboration is especially prevalent in public Blockchains, the first types of Blockchains ever created. Marcus Estes, CEO of Chroma and who moderated the TAO-led event, classifies public blockchains as, “permissionless, where anyone can join the network, helping the whole network compute and stay available.” They also tend to be the widest networks in terms of nodes, or with the most electronic devices connected to the Blockchain network that are able to generate, send and receive data.
Although public blockchains are for the most part, incredibly secure, it’s possible for hackers to access the network. Estes also notes that scalability remains a weakness, as it can, “take several minutes to make a transaction and it’s difficult to propagate data.”
Conversely, private Blockchains are rather intuitive. The user associated with a private blockchain must be granted access by the organizational charter running that particular blockchain. Specific to the medical field, patients may upload records for doctors and other healthcare practitioners to access, but they are the only users granted access to that data.
One issue that remains somewhat unclear is whether Blockchain-settled transactions will pass legal and compliance tests. Estes outlines the complexity for these transactions, especially financial ones. “The IRS deemed Blockchain property, thus taxable. If value increases and in turn, a user earns cash, then that’s taxable.” According to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN, “virtual currencies are akin to real currencies, thus those wanting to move money must apply for money transferring licenses,” says Estes.
Espinosa also notes that it’s difficult to answer the question surrounding legal and compliance testing due to the fact that Blockchain is still early in the process. Questions still remain regarding what the future holds for Blockchain, but healthcare practitioners alike are excited to see how the process will unfold.
“I think there’s huge potential in this community for digital health, and it’s critical that we dedicate our resources to this,” remarked Jeff Gaus, Board Chair of YEBW. “Blockchain could be one of the most disruptive technologies in the last 30 years. The question is whether it will be implemented properly and if vested interests are going to embrace or kill the technology. It’s going be a five-to-twenty-year march.”
Molly Lindquist, Founder and CEO of Consano, noted that Blockchain’s broad scope leaves healthcare professionals with questions. “It would be interesting to read case studies and see where encrypted technology addresses issues in healthcare and it would help to hear how it’s utilized,” says Lindquist. “It’s important to involve people in academia, clinicians, and as many different stakeholders in the healthcare process as possible.”