12 April 2017
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Q. What is blockchain and has it any use in healthcare?

A. Blockchain came into being to create and support Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency sometimes used as a payment method in Ransomware and other hacking exploits. The underlying architecture and technology are solid and proven and blockchain has many possible uses, including healthcare. Think of blockchain as a distributed database or spreadsheet where lots of trusted parties add records, for example a medication record, and the distributed database is held on multiple servers but is only made available to authenticated users. A GP or pharmacist could call up a record of all medication prescribed or dispensed for an individual patient in primary or secondary care. Each individual record forms part of a block of encrypted data so there is no possibility that records are changed or altered without hacking all the other records in the block.

The MIT media lab is working on blockchain for electronic health records. The pilot application is called MedRec. Here is an extract from an article they published (www.pubpub.org/pub/medrec): "Blockchain technology can be disassociated with the bitcoin currency and used in a variety of other settings (both public and private) where one desires a validated, unalterable, time-stamped, and decentralised ledger. We leverage these blockchain properties in MedRec to streamline access management for EMRs." Blockchain is likely to gain traction as an electronic health record solution. It will be interesting to see how different centralised or decentralised models evolve and how it is monetised by major consultancy and IT companies. It is not yet ready for real-life use in Irish healthcare.

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