Security Considerations for Using Blockchain Technology in Healthcare

Businesses continue to innovate and adopt new technologies with the goal of making operational processes more efficient. Recently, the newest technology trend, blockchain, has gained much attention from companies, technology innovators, and regulators. Although the technology itself is not new, it’s adoption into the commercial world is.

Many industries have begun investing and researching commercial blockchain solutions, including the healthcare industry. A study from IBM discovered that 16% of healthcare executives plan to implement a commercial blockchain solution this year, while 56% expected to by 2020.

To weigh the advantages and disadvantages of blockchain technology in healthcare, it’s imperative to understand blockchain and its functionality.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a distributed system technology used to manage, exchange, and store data. Previously affiliated with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, the distributed ledger technology acts as a database. However, unlike traditional databases, the data within blockchain is hosted in a decentralized network.

Due to its unique infrastructure, any transactional activities within blockchain are transparent and unmodified, making them exceptionally secure. This distinctive characteristic is what makes the technology so attractive to many industries.

What are the Benefits of Using Blockchain in Healthcare?

Due to the current state of healthcare technology and the nature of healthcare information, organizations struggle to manage and process valuable data. With blockchain technology, healthcare organizations could solve many of the security and privacy challenges that face the industry.

Blockchain can create a common database of health information which would provide a myriad of benefits, allowing organizations to share data between doctors and healthcare providers easily. It would reduce administrative work leading to more time spent with patients, and increase visibility into health information, enhancing diagnosis and treatment.

Although the fundamental concept of blockchain technology may seem like the perfect solution for the healthcare industry, it is still an emerging technology which could present serious security issues in the future.

What are the Security Considerations?

Since the distributed system technology is different from existing healthcare technology, its structure and functionality could create unexpected problems. Before organizations begin developing and using commercial blockchain, they should recognize the potential security issues.

Premature Network

To function correctly, blockchain needs to have hundreds of thousands of nodes working simultaneously. Therefore, any system in early stages of development and growth with a smaller number of nodes can be exceptionally vulnerable to an attack and corruption.

Human Error

Although it can be difficult; some organizations may decide to build their own blockchain system. This can be risky as one mistake can compromise the entire system. Blockchain technology can be complicated to understand, therefore any employee responsible for working with the system should be trained to understand its functionality as well as the associated risks. A poorly managed blockchain system can become a security risk. For that reason, private blockchain systems should be assessed regularly to ensure best practices are in place.

Verification Delay and Access Permissions

In a public blockchain, the process used to verify transactions, known as consensus, is designed to take about 10 minutes. Most transactions take about one to two hours to be fully verified. The time delay can pose a security threat and a vulnerability to the system, as data might not always hold the same status.

However, in a private blockchain, there is a designated operator who controls and chooses the nodes responsible for verification. These nodes communicate all new and verified transactions to the entire network. A single operator is responsible for choosing and securing access to these nodes, which can become a single point of exploitation.

Regulatory Clash

Blockchain’s decentralized characteristic is problematic for most industry regulators. For healthcare organizations specifically, blockchain creates massive hurdles when complying with government regulations such as HIPAA. Since blockchain is still emerging into commercial use, there is regulatory uncertainty which could cause severe noncompliant damages.

Blockchain continues to be developed and studied for commercial healthcare use despite the early considerations of security. The industry recognizes the potential of blockchain technology and strives to overcome the obstacles to reap the benefits.

To learn more about blockchain or the security solutions A-LIGN offers, contact us at info@a-lign.com or at 888-702-5446.