How can blockchain be used for data sharing?

September 25th, 2018 | Published Under Health Information Exchange by Jennifer Mensch


CORHIO recently announced its involvement in a partnership that marks the first collaboration of its kind to leverage blockchain for HIPAA-compliant data aggregation and reporting in the state of Colorado. Our partner BurstIQ, a blockchain-based healthcare application company, helped explain the basics of blockchain in a recent blog post and now we’d like to explore how blockchain could be used in specific healthcare data sharing applications in compliance with HIPAA.

As a reminder, blockchain 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. The cryptographic hash links each block to the one before it – thus, creating a blockchain. Once a block is created, it is permanently linked to that blockchain forever. This means that the data stored on a blockchain is immutable - it can’t be corrupted or edited.

So how can this indisputable chain of custody and advanced data security improve healthcare data exchange? Because of the built-in standardization of blockchain, many say it could be the future of medical record and data exchange. The following areas in particular could benefit from blockchain technology.

Community Health Records

The level of security and completeness in a blockchain medical record could be higher than what we have today. So a provider with a few seconds to spare could quickly look at the patient record and see what’s happening now with the patient and not have to comb through notes, diagnoses, lab results, disease registries, etc. Because each block in the chain is timestamped, you can quickly see the latest information. A provider would see the newest information first, such as a prescription fill, and have the ability to go backward to find out more about what happened with the patient.

“Hacking one block in the chain is impossible without simultaneously hacking every other block in the chain’s chronology. This makes blockchain incredibly appealing to the doctors and hospitals that need secure access to a patient’s entire health history.” – Wired magazine

Nationwide Interoperability

Blockchain is not bound by geographic territories, state lines, electronic health record (EHR) systems or health systems – because the data would be tied to the patient. So regardless of where the patient was treated and what EHR that doctor uses, the data from that visit would forever stay tied to the patient, and cannot be altered or removed from that patient’s history.

According to HIT Consultant, “Interoperability, the very promise of blockchain, can be realized by the use of sophisticated APIs to make EHR interoperability and data storage a reliable process. With blockchain network being shared with authorized providers in a secure and standardized way, that would eliminate the cost and burden associated with data reconciliation.”

Patient Matching

The applications of blockchain for patient matching are being explored. Using blockchain for patient data makes the data inherently more secure and accessible. With fewer siloes, patient matching could improve simply by uncluttered machine learning and eliminating all of the different touchpoints and potential points of failure in matching recent transaction data to one patient. For a comprehensive look at this topic, see Healthcare IT News.

Smart Contracts

Another element of blockchain that has great potential in healthcare is the “smart contract.” According to Wikipedia, a smart contract “is a computer protocol intended to digitally facilitate, verify, or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract. Smart contracts allow the performance of credible transactions without third parties. These transactions are trackable and irreversible.” To learn more about smart contracts, you might find this article helpful: Smart Contracts: The Blockchain Technology That Will Replace Lawyers