3 Blockchain Startups and 1 Big Move to Patient Data Ownership

C. Gourarie
JULY 17, 2018
patient data ownership,blockchain phishing,blockchain healthcare data,blockchain genomics,hca news

This year, close to 2 million patients have been affected by data breaches in at least 18 different hacks. And that’s without tallying the countless records affected by breaches that haven’t been quantified, like the ransomware attack on Allscripts, the electronic health records (EHRs) vendor that serves 7.2 million patients and thousands of practitioners.

The breaches ranged from sophisticated ransomware attacks to phishing emails and stolen laptops, but they all pointed to a common problem: the troubling state of healthcare data in an era when every industry is driven by data.

>> READ: Big Healthcare Players to Explore Blockchain's Viability

There is great promise in an alternate future where healthcare data infrastructure is secure, private, and shareable among patients, practitioners, and researchers. And there is a crop of healthcare companies that are betting on that future, and they plan to use blockchain technology to build it.

Although they differ considerably, companies like Longenesis, Coral Health, and Nebula Genomics all hope to give patients control over their medical data—fitness tracking, lab results, or their genetic code—and even enable them to get paid for sharing that information.

These companies seek to solve the double problem of making healthcare data both accessible and secure. Currently, healthcare data is siloed, fragmented, and often sealed. Patients repeat procedures or must physically send results from one office to another, while practitioners diagnose and treat without complete medical histories. Across countries and states, information is locked, sometimes even within the same hospital, in departmental or software silos.

However, on the flip side, centralized data centers pose significant security and privacy issues, evidenced by the Allscripts breach.

As we move into a future of precision medicine, synthetic drug discovery, and an industry fueled by data, access to medical data and the shaping of its infrastructure will become even more crucial.

That’s why companies are turning to blockchain for the solution. Blockchain is best known for its most popular application, the digital currency bitcoin, but the underlying technology is not specific to currency. A blockchain is a decentralized database, and its fundamental advantage is that, unlike a company-based server farm, there is no single point of failure or control. A blockchain-based system is also by definition immutable, which makes it less vulnerable to certain kinds of fraud and corruption.

The budding startups in this space are at various stages of deployment, and they focus on different data types, including genetic data, EHRs, lab data, and even selfies—but all are hoping to shape the future of healthcare.

Why the Blockchain?

Blockchain technology is hailed as the solution to the impossible: creating a database that is secure, accessible, private, and transparent. Generally, those traits are incompatible, meaning we trade access for security and transparency for privacy.

But blockchain resets those trade-offs. It redistributes control to multiple actors so that there is no single point of failure and no single point of access.

The technology’s second primary advantage is that it can’t be changed. As the name suggests, a blockchain is a series of blocks of code, strung together like beads on a necklace. Each block of code is a transaction, and once it’s been added to the chain, it can’t be removed, which makes the blockchain uniquely transparent.

>> READ: Checking the Pulse of Blockchain in Healthcare

But the blockchain doesn’t solve many other tricky questions regarding privacy and security. The technology itself is not impenetrable, and, more important, it is not a closed system. Since any blockchain-based system will need to be connected to the real world, its security is highly dependent on the infrastructure built on top of it, such as accounts, storage, encryption, and identity validation.

Each of the startups Healthcare Analytics News™ reviewed have different solutions to connecting the real world with the blockchain and protecting the user data so that the information can’t be de-anonymized or removed from the closed system of the blockchain. But it’s also important to note that while the blockchain offers advantages over traditional database systems, it is not a magic bullet.

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