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The Basics of Blockchain

Contributor Dani Kilani

Courtesy of Entrepreneur

If you arrive early to class, you may see your classmates pulling out pricing charts, looking at their bitcoin. You’ve heard the word “blockchain” thrown around for awhile now, but you’re still unsure of what it is. More importantly, does it even concern you as a student studying medical sciences? The answer is yes. So what do you need to know?

Blockchain is a way of storing and contributing decentralized and secure information that allows for users to facilitate enforced contract information (called smart contracts).

Decentralization allows the information stored on the blockchain to be distributed across the devices of all users on the blockchain, instead of in one location. This feature prevents foul play in data management because the information may not be changed easily. Once information is stored on the blockchain, it can’t be modified without approval from the majority of users.

If changes are made, each device must agree that the changes are correct before updating the information.

With this incredibly innovative way to store the information, there is cause for concern. With our lives being increasingly lived online, how do we know that this information is secure? Luckily, Blockchain information is encrypted, so no one may decrypt the information without a key. The contributor of the information holds a unique private key which is able to create public keys, that can be used by other users to access the information.

Another measure of security is in Blockchain’s ability to facilitate enforced contracts. Blockchain allows users to record the transaction and verify that both parties held up their end of the contract.

For example, let’s say an Amazon customer buys a product that transfers payment on the condition that their product is marked as delivered by Canada Post. Blockchain will have a contract that determines whether the contract was upheld, and if it was, Blockchain will automatically facilitate the transfer of the payment.

This might sound like a feature restricted to financial spheres, but its effects are more far reaching.

This September, I attended the MedHacks hackathon at Johns Hopkins where I worked with a team to utilize the Health Nexus blockchain and apply it in a way that improves healthcare.

In our particular case, we used blockchain to keep a ledger on the transfer of patient records. This resulted in the ability for a patient to come into a hospital and use a smart contract to give consent for a physician to view and modify their health records.

Ideally, in the future, this would be part of the check-in process where users scan a QR code at the hospital with a mobile app that prompts the user to give the hospital permission to access their data.

In the United States, the transfer of patient information between hospitals is a lengthy process that still uses fax machines, and often increases pesky wait times. This is one problem that can be solved through the application of blockchain in healthcare.

Another application of blockchain in healthcare is called ConnectingCare. It works to aggregate data from entire treatments starting from when patients leave the hospital and ending after they have follow up care with other healthcare providers. The data for shared patients can be accessed by all healthcare providers that see that patient. The goal is to keep track of the cost of entire treatments to patients/insurance (In the United States) and allow healthcare providers to see what kind of care their patients are getting after the initial treatment.

The information provided by ConnectingCare is useful for healthcare providers to see what treatments are effective (need less follow up care and produce superior health outcomes), in order to move towards greater efficiency in the healthcare system and better treatment plans for patients.

If you’re interested in this field, you could also look into Blockchain development.

A primary qualification for being hired by most blockchain companies is a programming background usually stemming from an undergraduate degree. The most applicable Medical Sciences module to blockchain would be the Medical Health Informatics module. Although you probably won’t be developing your own blockchain in class, it will give you the programming foundations and healthcare background required.

Coding a blockchain requires a variety of programming languages. Learning and using these languages will be essential because companies with open source blockchains preferentially hire individuals that contribute content to their open source community.

The last thing you should be working towards is having some previous work experience in programming roles (not necessarily related to blockchain) during the summer. This will not only give you the experience you need to get the job you want, but it will also give you exposure to programming roles for you to see if it is the right career for you.

Blockchain is a rapidly developing and continually changing technology that is likely to have a significant impact on the world.