Managing Your Healthcare Data Through the Blockchain

An AI-generated image of healthcare information flowing securely between computers.

Editor’s Note: This post about healthcare’s blockchain usage was originally published on the now-defunct Samsung NEXT blog in April 2018.

Data is one of the most valuable commodities in the healthcare industry. It’s so important that there are a host of regulations dictating how it’s protected. But as technology progresses, new threats and workflows have emerged that may necessitate changing how we treat this information.

To that end, some suggest blockchain as a solution to managing electronic health records. Much of the frustration that exists today stems from an inability to share data between legacy systems, which can affect a patient’s care. Healthcare providers are resigned to using the fax machine as a workaround, printing out records and faxing them so they become digitized.

Health Industry Hesitant to Embrace Tech

While there are experts who posit blockchain as a way to overcome these issues, adoption remains a stumbling block. One company looking to break through is Open Health Network, founded by entrepreneurs Tatyana Kanzaveli and Maksim Tsvetovat, which provides organizations with blockchain-enabled middleware that helps manage identity and data access tracking, in addition to what it calls a “patient experience platform.”

“Forward-thinking organizations are moving away from niche patient-facing offerings in digital health areas and moving towards platform solutions like Open Health Network to enable integrated patient experiences and collection of data in a way that will make it possible to analyze through a common back-end database,” Kanzaveli explains.

Open Health Network’s aim is to democratize healthcare data using blockchain, enabling patients to create smart contracts around consent that dictate who, when, and how their medical information is used.

While trepidation exists within the industry around blockchain, Kanzaveli believes it’s more due to misconceptions, such as the belief that the technology isn’t HIPAA compliant. This results in her team constantly educating healthcare professionals on how it could solve “clinical trial recruitment, compliance, health data sharing, and engaging with underserved communities.”

VCs Think Blockchain Tech in Healthcare is Viable

Investors are fascinated by blockchain’s potential impact on healthcare. “Blockchain technology works well in transactional systems where every interaction between parties has to be validated and recorded,” says Arun Penmetsa, a partner at Storm Ventures.

He sees patient identity and data management as an optimal use case because every interaction will require validation from both parties and patient consent — traditionally it’s been handled through a physical ID or username and password combination, followed by the patient’s signature.

“No single party or platform is responsible for the overall security of the patient record. The blockchain could act as a system or record for this information making the transfer, authorization, and access to information easier and more secure,” he explains.

In 2017, there were more than 1,100 data breaches impacting U.S. organizations, resulting in more than 171 million records being exposed. The magnitude of the threat is one reason Armin Ebrahimi believes there’s value in turning to the blockchain.

The CEO of enterprise identity authentication service ShoCard, Ebrahimi says there’s “major potential in verifying personally identifiable information (PII) without the data being stored in massive databases that are vulnerable to breaches.”

Founded in 2015, ShoCard wants to help individuals, businesses, and governments set up a network that’ll verify and exchange identity information easily, privately, and securely.

The goals Open Health Network, ShoCard, and others have around improving security and data portability are admirable. After all, with systems getting hacked practically left and right or unable to share data with one another can be incredibly frustrating. As patients, we’d feel more comfortable taking control of our own data and turning to blockchain is one way to accomplish that.

Not Technology That’ll Roll Out Overnight

Raymond Liao, managing director with Samsung NEXT, is cautiously optimistic because while the use of blockchain is plausible, he doesn’t think that it’s viable today. “You’ll have to wait a little bit longer. We have to wait until the hype has died down a bit. Everyone is focused on doing whitepapers… you don’t see anyone doing things.”

He believes the problems around health records aren’t difficult to solve but are due to incumbents being obsessed with maintaining ownership of patient data. However, Liao theorizes that decentralization by blockchain may loosen the grip of these companies, motivating them to share more since no one will truly “own” the data, allowing the greater community to benefit and for the productivity of the data.

To Liao, startups in this space won’t need to seek out funding from traditional investors, but worries that there’s a risk of fragmentation because of multiple blockchain instances where silos start to emerge. “That’s not solving the problem, it’s further complicating the situation.”

Ebrahimi is more optimistic, predicting “more and more healthcare systems will adopt blockchain identity management to meet compliance requirements and offer the highest levels of peace of mind to every stakeholder and patient.”

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