Blockchain technology has been at the center of media attention, largely because of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, however, not many people actually understand what a blockchain is.

To put it simple, blockchains are distributed systems, recording and storing transactions on a decentralised digital ledger. Transaction data are permanently recorded and stored on digital “files” called blocks, which are organised in a linear sequence over time. Unlike, databases, records are stored and distributed across the network. Interactions require verification through advanced cryptographic techniques, before information is viewed, added, deleted or changed in any way, enabling collaboration between parties with no preexisting trust, while recording an immutable audit trail of all interactions. Another important benefit is security, since there is no single point of failure.

On permissionless blockchains, all parties can view all records. On permissioned blockchains, privacy can be maintained by agreement about which parties can view which transactions and where.

How can it transform healthcare?

Blockchain technology is making its way to the healthcare industry, and this is only the beginning. By now, most healthcare organisations recognise that blockchain could greatly reduce the time, costs and risks associated with how they operate. Having in mind what blockchain technology has to offer, it’s clear to see that this has the potential to transform the healthcare industry as we know it.

A recent study from IBM named Healthcare Rallies for Blockchain surveyed 200 healthcare executives in 16 countries. They found out that 16% had plans to implement a commercial blockchain solution as soon as possible, while 56% expected to do so by 2020.

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, has the potential to overcome some of healthcare’s major challenges, such as identity, privacy, data liquidity and integrity, as well as interoperability. And due to its distributed architecture, there is the potential to build a truly patient-centered system.

FutureScot is pleased to welcome world-leading digital health experts from Scotland, Germany, Finland and The Netherlands to our Health & Social Care Leaders Conference 2018. This one-day conference focuses on how advances in digital technology can help deliver better outcomes as we chart our own course towards health and social care integration in Scotland. Coverage  of the event will feed into a report celebrating 70 years of the NHS in Scotland, published in June.

Blockchain-based systems have the potential to reduce or even eliminate the friction and costs of current intermediaries. Furthermore, they offer a secure way to streamline the sharing of medical records with appropriate permission by the true owner of the data, while also solving the interoperability of healthcare providers that now use different systems for storing information. Also, they could serve as a trusted, shared source of prescription records.

Security is another major advantage. Last year, hospitals and GP surgeries in England and Scotland were hit by a “ransomware” attack, forcing doctors to turn away patients and cancel appointments in parts of England. Because of the distributed nature of blockchain-based systems, there is no single point of failure, making it more difficult for hackers to take control or corrupt the data.

Distributed ledger technology has widespread implications for stakeholders in healthcare. Capitalising on this technology can connect marginalised and fragmented systems, as well as generate valuable insight. Furthermore, it has the potential for regulators, doctors and researchers, to clearly monitor and assess the value of care. In the future, nationwide blockchain networks for medical records, may improve efficiencies, support better outcomes for patients and create an environment for a patient-centric healthcare system.

William Hantzaras is Head of Product at LifeLine Blockchain.