The healthcare industry faces a multitude of challenges among which security breaches and centralized data storage seek immediate attention. The alarming number of healthcare data breach incidents over the last year (377 incidents) calls for urgent attention to consider innovative technologies/solutions that address the twin challenges of security and storage. Healthcare organizations are prime targets of such attacks because they lag on cybersecurity spending when compared to other industries like banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI). They eventually end up paying penalties for breaches, even though the cost of improving the security is less than the penalty paid. Just in the month of July (2017), healthcare organizations reported a total of 36 breach incidents, 29 of those compromised 575,142 patient records. Among the 36 breaches, 17 were hacking incidents. The numbers are significant because, in general, the breaches caused by insider incidents outnumber the breaches caused by hacking incidents. This change in trend gives us a glimpse into the future of healthcare cyber security and an idea of what we are up against.
The other challenge that healthcare faces is the saturation in potential cost savings one can achieve through traditional cloud models for data storage. There is an increasing need for new mechanisms such as Block Cloud, which promises to revamp the existing data storage infrastructure currently used in healthcare. Companies such as Microsoft are coming up with cloud-based technology to facilitate transformation of existing systems to one based on the blockchain. It has recently started a service called Blockchain as a Service (BaaS). Another company called Storj has started offering blockchain-based end-to-end encrypted storage at an affordable cost ($15 per TB a month). These are the prices that are being offered at a time when the technology is new and the economies of scale have not been achieved, so there is scope for further reduction in data storage cost.
The implementation of a private blockchain network, which is a decentralized peer-to-peer network, will make the system virtually ‘unhackable’ and protect sensitive information. This network which is set up should be a permissioned network, with access control mechanism to decide who gets access to the blockchain. The implementation of blockchain network would also lead to aggregation of unutilized and underutilized resources and deploying the same in areas where they can be used effectively. This is basically the Uberization of computer storage and power, helping organizations reduce investments in infrastructure and storage.
It is just a matter of time before the blockchain becomes a standard for healthcare data storage. However, for this to become a reality, industry stakeholders, including providers, payers, patients, and employers, have to come together to establish a rule book which contains various checks and balances involving the governance and validations of the healthcare transactions. All this needs to happen without tampering with the open source nature/consensus-based system that self regulates the blockchain, eliminating the need for an external custodian/regulatory body. At the end of the day, no single entity should have the power to alter the rules which govern the system.
That said, the blockchain comes with its own set of challenges, and these challenges are industry- and use case-specific. Some of the challenges for a healthcare blockchain, related to the above use cases, could be: size and the type of data that can be stored, alignment to the existing regulatory framework, and overall scalability.
The adoption of the blockchain, although in nascent stages, is surprisingly both disruptive and low in investment, which is a rare combination for any industry that aspires to bring in transformation and not just incremental value.