Introduced to the world as the technology behind Bitcoin, blockchain is becoming widely adopted across many industries as it allows for safe information storage as well as secure transactions without third party involvement. There are many industries that can particularly benefit from the technology, beyond the obvious banking and finance, including healthcare, manufacturing, and more. In fact, Statisa estimates over 55% of healthcare applications will have integrated blockchain solutions by the year 2025. With increased popularity, many of you may be asking yourselves, what is blockchain exactly? Below we will outline blockchain in the simplest terms possible and its implications for the future of software development.
Blockchain, also known as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), is, in simplest terms, an abiding and time-stamped record of data which is managed by a group of computers rather than owned by any one single entity. It gets its name as each “block” of data is secured and tied to each other through cryptographic principles, hence the “chain.” This is best explained through an analogy. Think of Google Docs. A user creates a piece of content and shares it with others. This content is not copied or transferred but simply distributed, giving everyone access at the same time. This is known as a decentralized distribution chain. Any changes to the document are being made in real time. No one is locked out, giving the document full transparency.
It’s obviously a bit more complicated than that, but this analogy outlines the three most important qualities of blockchain technology. First, assets are distributed instead of copied. Second, digital assets are decentralized meaning everyone has access in real time. Third, a transparent ledger of all changes made creates trust in the integrity of the asset. How this works is a bit more difficult to understand, so instead we will focus on the ways in which blockchain technology can be harnessed by a couple of industries to mitigate risk, reduce fraud, and bring about transparency in a scalable way.
Blockchain has particularly powerful implications for healthcare as a means to securing and distributing patient data. Patient medical records can be stored on a blockchain, thus medical personnel can have a clearer and uninterrupted understanding of a patient’s medical history. As it currently stands, every time we switch insurance or medical groups, we often have to initiate the sharing of our medical information between groups in order for our current practitioner to have any sort of medical history. Even then, unless we do this every time, our history is often incomplete. Now imagine the Google Docs analogy above, but applied to our healthcare information. Medical records, now stored on a blockchain, can be shared and distributed granting healthcare practitioners concurrent access. Changes can be made by doctors in real time, with a detailed history of all changes and updates. Patients can have control over the data stored on the blockchain and who can access it. Overall, blockchain would increase the effectiveness of treatment given a more complete history of every patient.
With our current system, voters have to be physically present at a designated polling location to cast their vote unless they use a mail in ballot. This significantly affects voter turnout, as some may not be physically able to drop in on voting day during designated hours or don’t want to deal with a mail in ballot. Now imagine a world in which voting can be conducted online. Given concerns over security and fraud this has never been an option, however, blockchain technology presents an interesting and feasible opportunity for an online enabled system. Its hack resistant nature provides the security necessary for such a system, while a clear and transparent record of votes cast mitigates fraud. Just imagine how different our political landscape might be with significantly improved voter turnout!