Blockchain security offers anonymity while the data in the block is encrypted too
In the fast-changing era of computer security and tech advancement, it was only years ago that secure systems were the domain of giant companies with IT departments — but now secure systems are demanded by HIPAA rules to safeguard the data of even the smallest health care practices.
In the U.S., we’ve been using paper money to buy and sell goods and services since 1690. This form of financial transaction remained relatively unchanged for more than three centuries when, in 1994, e-commerce began.
Paper bills started to be replaced with electronic transactions, offering consumers the option and convenience of purchasing items from the comfort of their own home using computers and other mobile devices.
Most recently, a new form of currency has been created — the bitcoin. Utilized by millions, this cryptocurrency functions by using what is known as a blockchain to record financial transactions. Now this same technology is working its way into health care, but in more than just a financial sense. In this type of setting, it can also be used to enhance the privacy of the patient when exchanging confidential medical information.
To understand how it does this requires a basic understanding of what blockchain security is.
How blockchain security works
Investopedia explains that “blocks” are pieces of digital information that store basic transaction details, such as the two parties involved in the transaction and the date and time the transaction occurred. Each block is capable of storing 1 MB of data, which means that several thousand transactions can be recorded within a specific block.
The term “chain” refers to the database that stores all of the blocks. Additionally, this chain is accessible to the public, so anyone can view its data. For instance, if you look at bitcoin’s blockchain, you will see a list of all of the most current financial transactions using this form of currency.
Notice that each transaction is differentiated by a unique “hash” number. Click on a particular hash and you can see a list of all transactions occurring within that block. Since these blocks are public, doesn’t that mean that the information they contain are public too? Yes, but no.
One of the benefits of using blockchain is that it offers anonymity. Instead of the blocks using the names of the parties involved in the transaction, each person or entity is assigned a unique digital signature, much like a username. The data in the block is encrypted too.
Deloitte shares that this use of “cryptographic techniques” allows parties to share private data even if they’ve never worked together before and, therefore, lack the level of trust that exists once you’ve established a long-term relationship.
Security of blockchain
There is also a level of security offered by blockchain since each chain in the block contains the hash of the block before and after it. As a result, neither party can manipulate the data contained within a single block without having to also manipulate every block that exists after it. That makes this type of record less appealing to hackers since they cannot go back and simply change a block in the chain.
Verification is also required before information (a block) can be added to a specific chain. This improves the quality of the data within each block and subsequent chain.
A blockchain example in health care
To better understand how a blockchain may work in a health care setting, consider the manner in which your practice currently communicates with insurance providers.
A patient comes in and is treated, prompting a claim to be submitted electronically to the insurance company. That claim is then entered into their system, reviewed, and, if authorized, reimbursement is remitted to your chiropractic practice.
Because information is being transmitted at least twice — from you to them and them back to you — there are more opportunities for hackers to access it. This puts both your practice and your patients at risk. Accenture indicates that the number of security breaches outside of blockchain has increased by 11% in the past year, costing businesses and organizations around $13 million to clean them up.
With the advantages offered by blockchain, will this technology become more mainstream within the chiropractic industry in the future?
Is the chiropractic industry ready for blockchain?
According to an article published in Healthcare Informatics Research in April 2019, this form of technology does provide many benefits, but it also comes with “several potential challenges that must be addressed for it to be adopted for biomedical and health care applications.”
Among the challenges listed by the author are the transparency behind the blockchain and its processing speed, the latter of which is a major concern since numerous healthcare-related transactions occur on a regular basis.
IBM adds that blockchain security adoption in the health care system has also been slowed by “outmoded legacy systems, heavy regulations, privacy concerns, and a history of noncooperation within the industry.”
So, is the chiropractic industry ready for the blockchain? Not currently. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t where health care is headed, especially as advancements are made in regard to this technology that address the concerns that exist by professionals and the public alike.
In this case, blockchain may be the e-commerce of the future, replacing the current system while offering everyone involved more confidentiality and security when sending and receiving private medical information.