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Data Analytics in Blockchain: The Case of Healthcare
For the past couple of years, the technology sector has been hit by a thunderstorm called “blockchain”. Everyone is talking about blockchain. Still, for several people it is still unclear what a blockchain is and how it can impact critical sectors like healthcare.
To keep it simple, blockchain is a distributed database system that serves as an “open ledger” to record and manage transactions. Each record in the database is called a block and contains details like the transaction timestamp, as well as a link to the previous block. This makes it impossible to retrospectively alter information about the records, since all blocks are linked like a chain. Blockchain technology is secure by design, since the same transaction is recorded over multiple, distributed database systems. The security and integrity of the blockchain is guaranteed through built-in protocols and cryptographic algorithms.
Blockchains are growing in popularity because they offer a way to conduct transactions without the need for a trusted third party. Transferring money, tracking goods and sharing legal documents are common uses of blockchain technologies. The advantage of blockchain is its decentralized nature – no single person or company controls data entry or its integrity. Instead, the sanctity of the blockchain is verified continuously by every computer on the network. This fact constitutes blockchain immutable since information remains in the same state for as long as the network exists.
Data Analytics in Blockchain
Blockchain has the potential to change the way that the world approaches big data, with enhanced security, data integrity and data quality.
(Big) Data analytics makes it possible to identify patterns of suspicious and risky transactions and thus nefarious users, a lot quicker than current day technology can achieve. Up until now, real-time fraud detection has only been a pipe dream; banking institutions have always relied on using technologies to retrospectively identify fraudulent transactions. Since blockchain has a database record for every transaction, it provides a way for institutions to check for patterns in real-time. Blockchain is particularly useful when there are numerous actors in the system.
From another perspective, blockchain also improves transparency in data analytics. Unlike previous algorithms, the blockchain technology rejects any input that it cannot verify and is deemed suspicious. As a result, analysts only deal with data that is completely transparent. In other words, the client’s behaviour patterns that blockchain systems identify are likely to be a lot more accurate than existing mechanisms. To this sense, data scientists will take advantage of the treasure trove of data that blockchains promises to offer.
The Case of Healthcare
Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the exchange of healthcare big data by enabling the healthcare data ecosystem to have more fluidity. Currently, access to and analysis of health data is too difficult or even impossible for healthcare researchers and scientists, mainly due to restrictions imposed by privacy laws and regulations. As a result, vast amounts of health data remain in silos making it difficult to use them and have a positive impact to future treatments and care. Even when the data is being used, the data owners have little say or visibility in the way their data is being processed. Blockchain technology offers opportunities for patients to maintain more control over who accesses their data and how it is shared.
Under blockchain, even a doctor would require multiple authorized “signatures” or permissions from other parts of a network to access patient records, increasing overall security. A blockchain-based healthcare system would allow providers to share records with justice departments, insurers, employers and any other sector with an interest in people’s health without the exponential increase in risk factors that comes with stretching a network thin.
Today, healthcare data resides in many different places such as the primary care provider, the hospital, or the medical lab where their results are processed. Poorly managed patient data can result in different datasets for the same patient obtained by two different medical sources, e.g., a general practitioner and a specialist. This situation increases the risk that a patient will be misdiagnosed, treated incorrectly, or that test results become lost or corrupted. Placing healthcare databases on the blockchain would create a single, unchangeable resource for practitioners to use when treating a patient.
Through blockchain, all doctors could access an accurate picture of the patient’s medical history. Combined with data analytics, doctors could potentially create a predictive picture of a patient’s medical future. This approach is analogous to the new open banking Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that allowed customers of regulated banks to give permission to share their financial data with authorised providers, including other banks, in order to obtain better financial services.
Along the same lines, blockchain is the enabler for increased competition and innovation, leading to better healthcare products and services.