Blockchain was developed and came to prominence in 2009 as the underlying technology behind Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency in circulation. In this case, the Bitcoin blockchain monitors financial transactions, which uses a unique cryptographic code created for each user and shared among Bitcoin nodes to confirm or deny those transactions. When a user makes a purchase or trade with Bitcoin, the blockchain records it, and once confirmed using this cryptographic code, the updates are made across the Bitcoin network, notifying all nodes that a Bitcoin changed hands. Every copy is then updated.
Why is blockchain so appealing, especially for healthcare?
Blockchain is enticing because each block is accessible to everyone on the network, and not controlled by a single entity. With hundreds or thousands of nodes confirming and backing up a transaction, discrepancies or attempts to change the information are easier to spot. Whether money or data, that peer-to-peer integrity and trust is built into blockchain.
“However, many conflate security with this trust," said Graham. While the data is nearly incorruptible, he said, due to the transparent nature of blockchain and the fact that the data sits on and is accessible by hundreds or thousands of individuals, it could also be accessible to bad actors.
That's one reason the Bitcoin blockchain is simply a record of transactions and not the coins themselves. As such, Graham believes financial and patient information shouldn't yet sit on a blockchain-based system.
However, Graham also pointed out that this distributed trust is what could in fact make blockchain ideal for several healthcare operations. The use of blockchain technology to support supply chain and product tracking is a particularly good fit.
With the passage of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act, which will require tracking pharmaceuticals down to the package level ─ from manufacture to patient distribution ─ those solutions are becoming even more critical. In fact, Genentech and Pfizer recently completed a pilot using blockchain technology to do just that.