A time-stamped series of immutable record of data managed by computers that are not owned by any single entity, blockchain is made up of blocks of data (i.e., block) that are secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles (i.e., chain). Its uses are seemingly limitless across all industries, with companies in the financial sector, the logistics industry, and the high-tech industry—to name just a few—rolling out blockchain initiatives right now.
The healthcare industry is another sandbox for blockchain experiments right now. Wired recently reported on a new approach to training artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. The experiment involves paying people to submit medical data, and then storing it in a blockchain-protected system.
Sharing Data Securely
An industry that’s long been focused on protecting patient privacy, records, and data, healthcare is well positioned to benefit from blockchain. According to Wired, Stanford ophthalmologist Robert Chang is working on a secure way for patients to share their data with researchers. It relies on a cloud computing network and is designed so that researchers never see the data, even when it’s used to train AI. “To encourage patients to participate, they’ll get paid when their data is used,” Gregory Barber writes in “AI Needs Your Data—and You Should Get Paid For It”.
Chang’s trials started recently at Stanford and use a technique known as “differential privacy,” where the ingredients for training an AI system come together with limited visibility to all parties involved. “Patients upload pictures of their medical data—say, an eye scan—and medical researchers like Chang submit the AI systems they need data to train,” Barber writes.
The blockchain-based platform then encrypts and anonymizes the data—a technique that its originator thinks could help tackle the medical industry’s data silo problem (which prevents data from being shared across institutions). “Patients and their doctors might be more willing to upload their data knowing it won’t be visible to anyone else,” Barber writes. “It would also prevent researchers from selling your data to a pharmaceutical company.”
Overcoming Challenges and Shortcomings
The Stanford experiment is just one way the medical and healthcare industries can use blockchain to work smarter, better, faster, and in a way that keeps patient data secure. This could be big business, according to BIS Research, which expects the global “blockchain in healthcare market” to reach $5.61 billion by 2025, representing double-digit annual growth over a seven-year period (2018-25).
“Blockchain can play a critical role in overcoming the shortcomings and challenges associated with legacy systems,” BIS points out in its report, noting that some of the key advantages of deploying blockchain in the healthcare industry include:
- The introduction of more transparent procedures
- The elimination of third-party intermediaries
- Streamlining of operational processes
- Cost reductions
- A shift to a more value-based healthcare system (from the existing fee-based healthcare systems)
- Improved patient engagement
- New opportunities for the introduction of more consumer-centric product segments and revenue streams.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a clear indicator of just how valuable blockchain could prove to be for medical and healthcare organizations in the future. “The blockchain in the healthcare market is going to be driven by the urgent need to improve interoperability and security of the healthcare information systems,” BIS’ Pushplata Patel told DocWire News.
“Around 14% of healthcare organizations [had] a blockchain-based system in place [at] the end of 2018,” he continues, “while 70% are expected to have invested in getting the technology on-board by 2020.”