Blockchain Series Part 1: Healthcare in the modern world

While blockchain is now a familiar term to many, perhaps it only signals the large price surges cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have seen in recent months. However, at the core of bitcoin is a technology called blockchain, with the potential to transform modern society. In the age of big data generated by millions of smartphones, cameras and online interactions, the centrality of data needs to be managed by new technology before we lose the ability to deal with, and learn from, this avalanche of information. This is why companies such as IBM are setting up large and visible blockchain teams, with projects underway in the fields of supply chain, food safety, government, insurance and more.

At Iris, we believe blockchain has a unique potential in one crucial sector affecting all our daily lives: healthcare. In this series, we explore some of the ways blockchain, the technology behind the Iris healthcare ecosystem, is set to revolutionize our daily health.

Part 1: The patient is the priority

At the core of Iris is the concept of patient supremacy in healthcare; the idea that the patient, as an autonomous individual, owns all of their health data. While this is at heart a simple idea, in practice Electronic Health Records (or EHRs) today are acquired, managed and accessed by hospitals and other private caregivers without much patient input or access. Even though there are regulations around privacy, the agency of the patient in controlling who has access to their data is largely overlooked. Data collected by hospitals and caregivers is also prioritized over data originating from the patient (for example, from a wearable device, or from their own experience which is often not recorded, a situation with especially large implications for minority populations).

Blockchain and the modern patient

Blockchain has the potential to change this situation by providing a marker of when the patient’s data is accessed, and who has accessed it. A “blockchain” is a string or chain of transaction records (“blocks”), which can be cryptographically signed using “hashes,” which are secure digital signatures. This technology is otherwise known as a distributed ledger, and while it is easy to see its applicability to money and finance, health records are another inherently transactional field requiring great trust and security. In short, Iris seeks to harness the ability to create tamper-proof records of healthcare data and transactions, provided by blockchain, to put the control of their health data back in the hands of the patient.

As described in more detail in our whitepaper, when data is created that is linked to a patient, it is stored as a block in the chain, which is duplicated across many systems all over the world. However, it is also secure since each time the data is accessed, a digital signature identifies the person accessing it. The patient can also allow or deny access to their data to each caregiver, or seek to monetize their own data by selling it to a healthcare company, if they see fit. Additionally, the versatility of the data that can be stored in a blockchain is attractive for the modern patient; he or she can add vital statistics, exercise and workouts, glucose levels, mood and many other markers that can be monitored at home. Measures like these give people an active agency in their own health, the first step to healing for many disorders.

What does the future hold?

When an Italian monk in the 1400s popularized double entry accounting, at first it might have seemed to be an obscure advance only for the field of accounting. However (just like the wide reach of blockchain today) the method is credited for revolutionizing the progress of modern capitalism and countless fields of study. At Iris, we hope to be part of the movement bringing the blockchain revolution to healthcare. In the following parts of the series, we explore more benefits of our decentralized EHR, and what a future healthcare system based on Iris would look like.