Blockchain in Healthcare: Hype or New Hope?

Posted October 12, 2016
By George McLaughlin


If you bring up blockchain in a normal conversation, most people will immediately start thinking about bitcoin.

They’ve probably never used it, but they’ve heard enough to acknowledge it as some “new kind of money”. 

If you fall into this category, (don’t feel bad, you’re in good company), I’d suggest you check out this quick explainer video before reading further, because this post about blockchain has nothing to do with money.

Leaving every day life behind and entering the poorly catered and even worse dressed world of industry conferences, blockchain is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Don’t believe me? Check out this article covering 20 Big Industries Where Blockchain Can Be Used or simply Google “blockchain disruption”, but make sure to bring a rope to climb out of the rabbit hole you fall into.

Startups are scrambling to disrupt industries and investors can’t get out of their own way trying to decide which groups have a real shot. With 397 “Blockchain Startups” currently on AngelList, it’s safe to say no industry is safe from the hype and potential impact of blockchain technology.

One area that a growing contingent believes is ripe for blockchain technology disruption is, you guessed it, healthcare.

As a rule, we are supportive of the introduction and use of new technologies. Heck, our entire business and platform is designed to make it easier for individuals and organizations to develop and implement technology solutions in the healthcare setting. That being said, there is a big difference between hype and real world application, and we are still trying to decide what phase of the hype cycle blockchain in healthcare can be categorized.

What we know for sure is that a lot of very smart people are bullish about blockchain in healthcare and that alone warrants taking the time to understand the possibilities at a deeper level. With this in mind, we were excited to attend Distributed Health, a healthcare and blockchain summit in Nashville, TN, earlier this month.

As part of the event, we were lucky to partner with Gem, arguably the leaders of the blockchain in healthcare movement, for a 24-hour hackathon. Teams had 24 hours to build and then demo an original blockchain-powered application. Our team worked to develop a decentralized first responder network and secure emergency medical data delivery system that would utilize a blockchain to improve how first responders deliver care. For more details, check out this breakdown.

The event was a blast and got us thinking more about the future of blockchain in healthcare. In the spirit of sharing, we decided to sit down and have a conversation about it. Check out the whole conversation here (15 minutes) or see below for some highlights.

From right to left:  QuHarrison Terry, Director of Marketing, James Lloyd, CTO, Nick Hatt, Senior Developer & HL7 Whisperer, Devin Soelberg, Chief Customer Officer, Luke Turner, Senior Developer

Healthcare vs. Financial Blockchain

First Use Cases for Blockchain in Healthcare

How would patient data be kept confidential with blockchain?

Can blockchain work in healthcare without a national patient identifier?

Who should have access to the healthcare blockchain?

While our videos are short on definitive statements, I think it is important to note that we are excited about blockchain’s potential. My colleague, Luke Turner, put it best when he said:

“I think the concept of the blockchain is amazing and ambitious and should absolutely be encouraged. Decentralized, consensus-based computing is extremely hard, and challenging to incorporate into modern society because it can’t really be legislated or centrally controlled. Basically it requires people to be willing to put their lives into the hands of an algorithm that is (by design) impossible for a human to intervene with. To me, that kind of evangelism is going to be the biggest challenge for blockchain tech in an industry like healthcare.”

When it comes to blockchain in healthcare, where do you stand? We’re genuinely curious and would love to hear your opinion. Comment below to keep the conversation going.