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Exchanging health data without a trusted authority

Any one that has attended any digital health conference in the last decade would know that the topic around health information exchange is hot. Many wonder why there are success stories of information exchange in many other sectors, notably financial institutions, but those successes have not been replicated in healthcare. For starters, there are many different reasons that combine together to limit stakeholders' ability to seamlessly exchange health information. If you like, you can refer to them as "wicked problems". First, there are numerous stakeholder groups in healthcare requiring large amounts of data in equally increasingly different formats. Second, healthcare is not business driven, and hence little motivation to fund a robust health information exchange system. Third, digital exchange irrespective of the sector will require a TRUSTED central authority to exchange the information. This blog seeks to address this third problem.

The need for a trusted authority is the only way to exchange digital information amongst two or more parties or businesses that do not need to worry about trusting one another. Or at least, that used to be the only way until research into blockchain was born as an aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008. This blog post will not attempt to delve into the many and sometimes contradictory or controversial definitions of blockchain. Rather, it is best to discuss the problem that blockchain solves. With Blockchain, multiple stakeholders can exchange digital information without a central authority using a cryptographic proof algorithms. Again, delving into the mechanisms that make this proof or the technology work is not the objective of this blog-post.

Healthcare stakeholders are leveraging this technology to solve one of the many problems mitigating against seamless exchange of information. If you want to read more about how Blockchain is currently being used in healthcare, its technicalities, you will find our recently published a global review article useful IEEE Access: A Systematic Review of Blockchain in Healthcare: Frameworks, Prototypes, and Implementations


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