Among the industries in which expectations for blockchain technology run high, health care holds a leading position. And there are a number of good reasons for its prominence. Health care is complex and data intensive. The industry has lots of players. Currently, health care transactions are slow, cumbersome, and expensive. Constraints on access to critical data sets limit progress in research. Data privacy is a big deal. Data security can be a life-or-death matter.
Many industry experts and analysts point to blockchain — the technology that underlies Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — as a possible solution for some of the biggest issues that health care faces. They predict powerful new capabilities and a potentially massive disruption of current approaches to services, care, and accountability. Blockchain’s potential to speed up and improve R&D, care delivery, and care management, and to reduce costs, they say, is enormous. They may be right, but the road to nowhere is paved with unfulfilled potential, so it pays to be cautious.
A blockchain is a distributed online ledger that can prove whether a piece of data is authentic. Every owner of a Bitcoin — the most widely used commercial application of blockchain so far — can see the history of that particular coin, including where and how it has been spent (although not the identities of its previous owners), to confirm that it is not counterfeit. This online ledger is publicly accessible to anyone on the internet, and no single version exists for a hacker to corrupt. Blockchain thus has the potential to change how we store and share confidential data and how we conduct all manner of transactions, by eliminating agents, brokers, traders, and other intermediaries.
Several of our colleagues have outlined how blockchain can reshape the economics of transaction costs and trust. Our colleagues did not try to prescribe what companies should do; instead, they offered a strategic context to help executives frame the right questions to ask. Our goal in this article is to bring a similar perspective to the potential for blockchain in health care. PHC has been designed to fulfill all such requirements.