How blockchain could help boost healthcare security

While researchers are only at the early stages of implementing this new technology, its structure could greatly improve secure access to a variety of patient records.

If we were to make a word-cloud of buzzwords, I have little doubt that blockchain would be represented by a very large font. Despite the potential risks and unknowns around blockchain, there does appear to be some incredibly exciting and useful implementations around this kind of technology across many industries, especially for healthcare.

Blockchain refers to a digital method of making, recording and validating transactions of virtually any kind. The technology significantly reduces the risk of fraud because it is completely transparent. The blockchain itself is like an endless digital receipt of transactions that can be used to prove that an event occurred, or that a record exists.

Blockchain technology has the potential to provide a positive influence on securing transactions associated with electronic medical records and helping to reduce fraud in healthcare.

Technology like this could have prevented a lot of major financial problems we have faced in the past such as Enron, the housing and tech bubbles, Bernie Madoff, and even Wells Fargo making money by adding extra checking accounts to their customers’ accounts. If blockchain had existed, other financial institutions, regulators and customers would have had the capability to identify and question these practices before they resulted in catastrophe. At the very least, we might have had a digital record that could prove the actions in the legal process.

But how can blockchain be used to help reduce fraud in healthcare? One of the most useful applications being considered for blockchain is to provide “proof of existence” records, allowing more resilient verification for birth certificates and medical records. Blockchain ledgers can be used to tie documents, transactions or virtually any other digital asset to a specific entity or person. This would provide the ability to prove one’s identity and possibly help eliminate, or more likely reduce, identity theft, among other things.

Blockchain can greatly reduce the risk of fraud in healthcare, specifically because it offers the ability to digitally confirm the authenticity of an identification document and the integrity of EHR. Blockchain technology can also integrate these integrity checks into the workflow by running them in the background with little to no impact on the provider’s processes.

Aside from provider uses, these integrity checks are valuable for several other types of healthcare functions, such as tracking prescriptions — when they were written, filled and whether any other pharmacy has filled the order. Others uses, such as inventory tracking, billing, HR record management, documentation, ownership and patient records, make up a virtually endless list of other potential applications of blockchain in healthcare.

Blockchain also can play a role in preventing cyberattacks on providers. It is important to know that blockchain technology is not a database that stores your data (which is a common misconception). Rather, it is designed to provide proof that something exists or has happened. The data in the chain for a transaction, if attributed to an actual document (such as a medical record), can be used by an authorized user to securely access this record.

If the perfect system were created and all healthcare records were part of the same blockchain ledger, it could potentially allow medical professionals to see all associated records and prove the patient’s identity and other treatments they have received. This application alone could drastically reduce the threat by attackers of fraudulent care and identity theft, as well as identifying drug-seeking behavior.

Like all technologies, proper implementation is key to using the blockchain successfully. If it is inadequately understood by those developing or using an application with blockchain technology, there is a serious risk that the blockchain may not be working correctly and giving a false sense of security.

Blockchain, like many other new technologies and especially those that promise better security or privacy, is not a panacea of protection. Before leveraging any technology, including blockchain, the specific uses and advantages should be understood thoroughly to understand how it fits within a secure architecture.

It is also important to understand what you are trying to accomplish and how blockchain will support your intended goal before planning and implementation begin. This should not be an issue if clear goals are developed and adhered to throughout the development lifecycle. If you are familiar with blockchain, it is advisable to make sure there is at least one subject matter expert involved to ensure that the technology is implemented correctly to assure its fullest potential.

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