There’s been a lot of hype surrounding blockchain technology. It’s being applied to many industries, from finance to healthcare. But blockchain isn’t merely the latest hot topic. People are taking it seriously. And it’s predicted that it can play a role in the future of healthcare IT.
It’s conception stemmed in response to the global financial crisis in 2008. The centralized, trusted banking system that was “too big to fail” was at risk. Blockchain avoids that single point of failure through a trusted, but decentralized network. And it’s not just the cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin that’s making impact in so many industries – but the revolutionary technology behind it.
The underlying concept can seem daunting to understand at first, but it’s actually pretty simple. The ledger permanently records the history of asset exchanges that take place within the network within a sequential chain of cryptographic hash-linked blocks. Each block is a record of a new transaction. Once each block is completed, it’s added to the chain, creating a chain of blocks, or blockchain.
It is a distributed system that records and stores transaction records in a digital ledger. Information here can be publicly or privately available, and doesn’t rely on a single computer or server to function; instead, the data is located in a network of computers called nodes. Data is encrypted so transaction details aren’t made public, but are only accessible to those with permission. Records stored here can be about people, companies, transactions, contracts, or anything else. It’s incredibly difficult to modify or corrupt this information due to its sequential nature, and its redundancy across the network. All network participants collectively determine the block’s validity according to a pre-defined algorithmic validation method (‘consensus mechanism’). Only after that validation is the new block added to the participant’s ledgers. Through this mechanism, each change to the ledger is replicated across the entire network and each network member has a full, identical copy of the entire ledger at any point in time.
What results is a consistent dataset with fewer errors and real-time synchronization. Since no single entity controls the origin of the information in the ledger, this technology is known for its integrity in the flow of information.
Blockchain has become immensely useful when loosely coupled organizations want to confidently share and audit information while automating mutually beneficial processes.
Recently, Quest Diagnostics announced it was joining other healthcare organizations, including Humana, MultiPlan, United Health Group’s Optum, and United Healthcare, in launching a pilot program to apply blockchain technology to improve data quality and reduce administrative costs associated with changes to healthcare provider demographic data: a critical, complex, and difficult issue facing organizations across the healthcare system.
Many managed care organizations, health systems, physicians, diagnostic information service providers, and other health care stakeholders typically maintain separate copies of healthcare provider data. This can result in time-intensive and expensive reconciliation processes when differences arise. The pilot program aims to examine how sharing data across healthcare organizations using blockchain can improve data accuracy, streamline administration, and improve access to care.
But that’s only one application, and we’re just getting started. There are many more ways of applying blockchain in this industry. Join Quest Diagnostics on June 12, 2018 at 2:00 PM ET for the webinar, Blockchain in healthcare: Why it matters, as Quest CIO Lidia Fonseca explores this topic further.
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