Blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), I know what you’re thinking: how is this not a buzzword filled, superfad article about how they somehow relate to healthcare. Don’t worry, I’ll explain everything and show that blockchain and AI can really be a match made in heaven for healthcare.
What is blockchain?
Blockchain technology is a decentralized network of data and is the technology that powers Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This technology enables peer-to-peer transactions and digital ownership of your data. Ownership of data is a big deal because of the concerns around companies being vulnerable to hacks or selling your data without your permission.
How this affects healthcare
Common practice is for healthcare data to be isolated between different hospitals. This is a problem because then each hospital only holds a piece to an individual’s true healthcare story. According to an interview in CoinDesk about the topic: “Even in Boston, there are 27 different systems for only 17 hospitals, and they lack interoperability. This is done on purpose: once the data is out of the siloed system, the hospital can create their own system.” Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize this system because it creates a standardized ledger for storing important data. The importance of this is that your data is encrypted and stored on the blockchain and therefore cannot be hacked or sold without your permission.
But blockchain is just a buzzword, right?
In a lot of cases, yes. Blockchain applications were all the hype in 2017 because cryptocurrencies were taking off in terms of price. This was largely based on speculation, not adoption because very few cryptocurrencies actually do anything useful. But that does not mean real use cases aren’t on the way. Massachusetts General Hospital, ranked the #4 hospital in the United States by the US News and World Report, is collaborating with blockchain startup MediBloc to standardize patient data. Their goal is to solve the interoperability problem in order to make patient data more secure and accurate. Doctors will have a clearer picture of your medical history in order to make better diagnoses. AI will also thrive in this environment, where more data will go a long way towards testing and identifying better prevention and treatment strategies.
This is a great start, but large companies are slow to adopt new technologies. Healthcare technologies must also be tested rigorously to ensure that they are reliable and comply with regulation. It will likely be several years before we see any significant adoption of new systems.
A win-win for healthcare and patients
Data privacy for users has been a very controversial topic over the past several years. Blockchain fits the narrative for disruption here that, as large companies are collecting and selling an increasing amount of data about you, users will have growing concerns about their data privacy. Nebula Genetics is a genetic testing service which offers a free genetic test and even pays you to anonymously submit your data for medical research. This is a revolutionary approach, compared to the companies and services who make expensive genetic testing kits and can go on to profit from your data by selling it to pharmaceutical companies.
Data is a big deal, and if one thing is for sure, it’s not going away. Data also becomes more powerful over time as patterns start to emerge to create best practices for medicine. The future of AI and blockchain is exciting to think about and will bring new advancements to the way doctors diagnose patients.