What is Block Chain Technology?
Block chain technology is a mechanism for recording data such as a series of events or transactions. Effectively, it’s a database… but it’s a special type of database which has only recently come onto the scene. Originally, block chain technology was introduced to track every Bitcoin transaction which has taken place; but there may be a few ways which it can help within the healthcare sector.
The properties of Block Chain
One way recording - The digital records are grouped into ‘blocks’, which are then linked together in chronological order. Previous data cannot be changed or removed; so it’s an exponential list of data which records every single transaction or event.
Mathematical algorithms - Each block is linked to the block that came before it using a complex mathematical algorithm which is known as the ‘hash function’. This method effectively means that the chain can never be broken and the data is always secure and immune from any potential tampering.
Security features - The reason block chain technology works so well is because it doesn’t exist as just one computer in one location. In fact, its security is better because it’s not stored in just one place; it’s actually stored across a number of computers around the world, and everyone on that network has real-time access to it.
How might this technology be used in healthcare?
So, here’s the big question. How can the healthcare sector benefit from an independent, irreversible and tamper-proof mechanism for recording data? Well, there are a number of ways block chain technology could be useful; from supply chain management in prosthetics to identity management for medical staff in hospitals.
One of the main ways block chain technology could be used in healthcare is for diabetic patients. Patients with diabetes are advised to check their blood glucose levels a number of times per day; but not all patients do this consistently. Combining block chain technology with the plethora of smart glucose self-monitors which are already on the marketplace, patients would be able to check their glucose levels at home and log the results on their mobile devices. This data could then be made available for use by the NHS (for health planning) or by a patient’s GP.
Another way block chain technology could be used in healthcare is through incentivisation. As wearable tech becomes more sophisticated, GP’s and the NHS itself may start to use incentivisation as way of getting patients to take more care of their health and fitness; and of course, block chain technology would be at the very heart of this process.
Want to learn more?
Apply for the University of Warwick’s ‘Competitive Advantage in the Digital Economy’ summer course; which is taking place in Venice from April 28th.
The school will discuss different applications for block chain technology in today's increasingly global and digital world. For more information on the summer school, contact P.Davies@warwick.ac.uk.