Even if you are not a technology expert, if you follow the media and social networks of the specialized press you must have heard about Blockchain, one of the biggest tech trends to emerge in recent years. Although you may have known of its existence because it was used with bitcoin, the truth is that this revealing system for exchanging information can be applied to very diverse fields of knowledge. Medicine, of course, is one of them.
But what does Blockchain consist of? It is neither more nor less than a decentralized and globalized database where recorded transactions between users cannot be edited or deleted. These transactions are encrypted using cryptographic methods and stored in servers (called nodes) which belong to the network and are located anywhere in the world. To give you an idea, it’s like a ledger that shows all the information transfers made and all the data uploaded with their exact date and time. Blockchain is a kind of digital auditor and cannot be fooled.
With a simple example it could be better understood how this chain of blocks works. User A wants to send a vital document to user B, but before that, this transaction is represented as a block in the Blockchain network. This independent block is transmitted to thousands of nodes that certify that the transaction is valid. At this point, the block is added to the string and recorded in such a way that it is unmodifiable. User B then receives the document from user A.
The fingerprint, a key to security
Each block created has 3 parts: the first is the information to be transmitted, the second is the block’s own fingerprint and the third is the previous block’s fingerprint. The block’s own fingerprint is a unique and unmodifiable alphanumeric cipher that identifies the content. This fingerprint would detect any attempt to edit the block. If the fingerprint changes, this indicates that the block is no longer the same as it was at the beginning, so it is no longer the original.
The earlier block’s fingerprint is what generates the block structure and makes the procedure safe. The first block is called “genesis”, since it does not have a previous fingerprint, which instead characterizes all the other blocks. In fact, an attempt to change any of the fingerprints would irreversibly change the previous fingerprint making the entire chain invalid. To make sure that this procedure cannot be tampered with and that it is impossible to change the string fingerprints, Blockchain has a “working test” based on delaying the creation of the new block; that is, before creating a new block, the members of the network would audit the entire chain of original blocks. If it detects a change, the block is not formed.
Blockchain does not use a single server. Instead, the network users themselves make sure the security of the block chain through their servers. These servers are called nodes and are in charge of verifying the created blocks and keeping the information unalterable. So… if you also want to join the latest technological revolution, how do you do it? It’s very simple, you only have to look for a platform that offers the Blockchain service, download the software they show you and pay for the service every time you want to use it.
Blockchain in Medicine
Although it was first used in 2009 with bitcoin cryptocurrencies, this technology can be used for several things: bank transactions without intermediaries, certification of copyrights in literary works or musical pieces, execution of contracts, streamlining bureaucracy in the civil service, elections and, of course, in medicine.
Can you imagine a world full of hospitals or health centers that could share data with their patients no matter where they are and without anyone being able to change them? With an authoring system like Blockchain, relevant medical information could be exchanged from anywhere in the world. A patient’s allergies, history, clinical analysis, treatments… all his medical information would be available to his doctor with a single click, always maintaining his privacy and certifying the authenticity of the exchanged documents.
With Blockchain, health and technology come together in a revolutionary system to ease the exchange of reports between doctors or between doctor and patient. The confidentiality of medical records, which is currently managed in a rather rudimentary way, will be unquestionable. In addition to this, Blockchain technology will allow secure transfers of data into wearable devices and improve the patient’s information retrieval from medical centers.
The healthcare industry is changing little by little and the laws are becoming stricter in terms of data protection. Proof of this is the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which regulate the transfer of sensitive data with special attention. Despite these policies are intended to regulate and protect patient care, many healthcare organizations still see a weakness in the exchange of information that Blockchain might actually solve.
Personalized medicine gains strength
MedLab Media Group (MMG), the Spanish start-up that offers technological solutions to the physician of the future, has integrated Blockchain in all its products to offer the greatest transparency and security in its services to physicians anywhere in the world. With this technology, doctors and patients validate and verify health-related data through digital identities impossible to manipulate.
“BLOCKCHAIN WILL REVOLUTIONIZE THE HEALTHCARE SECTOR AND WILL BE A TURNING POINT IN THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY. EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION. COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN DOCTOR AND PATIENT WILL BE SAFE, EASY AND STRAIGHTFORWARD. BLOCKCHAIN CHANGES EVERYTHING” Oleg Vorontsov, Executive Director of MedLab Media Group
This technology is characterized by the fact that it is decentralised, the information exchanged cannot be corrupted and there is a certain anonymity between all the agents involved. Transactions are linked to a person, but their identity is not revealed at any time; this relationship of trust makes it unnecessary for a third party to verify the transaction.
But how would Blockchain work in the health sector?
A doctor could carry out a list of records with all the patient’s health data. The first step is to create a clinical history; then, a digital signature is generated to ensure the authenticity of the document and is finally encrypted. At all times, the patient can know who has access to their data and, of course, if it was modified at any time in the chain. This technology offers advantages for research by allowing personalized patient facts to be tracked in real time and in a completely secure way. Medicine could become more accurate and have a large amount of valid study data available by collecting patients from different social and demographic backgrounds.
“BLOCKCHAIN HAS COME TO REVOLUTIONIZE THE BUSINESS WORLD. SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE SECOND MILLENNIUM, THE LACK OF CONFIDENCE IN TRANSACTION SYSTEMS HAS LED TO THE EMERGENCE OF TRANSACTION SECURITY SYSTEMS. WITH THESE NEW TECHNOLOGIES, WE FINALLY HAVE THE POSSIBILITY TO CREATE IMMUTABLE AND PERMANENT RECORDS”, Daniel Gimeno, Web architect of MedLab Media Group.
Blockchain offers the possibility of sharing millions of health data and involving different agents related to it: foundations, researchers, doctors, patients… all united by the same interest: to store and share sensitive information to prevent diseases, diagnose them, treat them, investigate them and make Medicine a data science only. As Gimeno explained, any process that requires recording sensitive information and certifying its immutability could use Blockchain. From there, the possibilities are very wide, even in the field of health. The Web architect of MMG said that the way to safeguard medical records, the possibility of prescribing drugs from one end of the world to the other without intermediaries are the first services of this technology.
“Document signatures, drug patents, copyrights, anything that can be registered and stored in a guaranteed document has a common denominator and that is: Blockchain,” he concluded. The main property of the distribution and replication of information through thousands of nodes around the world makes it almost impossible to alter the information. Initially, the financial world was the first to rely on Blockchain to create the crypto currencies, but Blockchain is more than that,” said MMG’s Web architect.
At the moment,the technological means available cannot break the algorithms that guarantee the authenticity of the data that Blockchain technology offers. To know what will happen next, we have to look into the power of computational speed; quantum computers for instance might bring new insights into the world of Blockchain and its invaluable advantages.