What is Blockchain?

August 27th, 2018 | Published Under Health Information Exchange by Jennifer Mensch



CORHIO recently announced its involvement in a partnership that will be the first collaboration of its kind to leverage blockchain for HIPAA-compliant data aggregation and reporting in the state of Colorado. So what is blockchain? It’s a new technology being utilized in this project with the expertise of BurstIQ, a blockchain-based healthcare application company.

BurstIQ provided this blog post to help CORHIO stakeholders understand this exciting new technology. Part 1 below is a general introduction to blockchain. Part 2 will cover how blockchain is used in specific healthcare data sharing applications in compliance with HIPAA. 

Blockchain, in its simplest form, is a ledger system – a series of transactions that are recorded over time. Think of each block as an individual record or line in a ledger book, and the blockchain as all of the records in the book. Each of these blocks are linked together, forming the chain.

Each block includes a time stamp, a cryptographic hash and some accompanying piece of information, like an amount of money that was sent or received. The cryptographic hash links each block to the one before it – thus, creating a blockchain. Once a block is created, cryptography ensures that it can’t be changed by anyone. It is permanently and inextricably linked to that blockchain forever. This means that the data stored on a blockchain is immutable - it can’t be corrupted or edited. So, when someone accesses the information on the blockchain, they can have full faith and trust in the data.

Blockchain provides another feature that helps ensure that data remains uncorrupted: distributed nodes. Unlike centralized databases that store data in a single repository, blockchain replicates itself across a network of “nodes.” Each node stores a complete copy of the blockchain. When one node tries to add new data to the blockchain, other nodes must verify the accuracy of the new data before it can be added to the chain. If the new data doesn’t match what the other nodes expect to see, they can prevent the new data from being added or even kick the offending node out of the network. This system prevents a single node from adding bad data or malware to the network and provides a highly democratic system of data verification and governance.

Together, the permanence of blockchain-based data, the cryptographic proofs, the distributed architecture and the network-led verifications provide a level of immutability, auditability and attestation that is simply not possible with centralized systems. Users can TRUST the data in the system.

Blockchain allows you to build longitudinal records of these trusted, verified data elements. Blockchain-based longitudinal records can store any kind of data: financial transactions, land titles, asset ownership, supply chain, voting data, educational records, professional certifications, medical records, water & electricity distribution, agriculture, and much, much more. Many experts believe that, over time, blockchain will become as ubiquitous as the Internet – that blockchain technology will be used for nearly every data management system and every transaction on Earth.

 Stay tuned for part 2 of this series about blockchain where we get into more healthcare-specific uses of blockchain.



Topics: Blockchain