At this point, most people in the technology area have heard of the digital currency called BitCoin, and although full understanding it and how it works is not as common, many do know it has to do with secure cryptographic capabilities. One aspect BitCoin is its use of a public ledger of transactions referred to as a blockchain, and it is this blockchain concept which is getting many groups excited about its potential uses outside of digital currency.
There are many in healthcare who are thinking of ways blockchain can be utilized to solve some of the current interoperability issues in HIT, specifically around distributed trust and secure exchange of data. In a very forward looking challenge, ONC announced a Blockchain Challenge looking for whitepapers exploring the concept of implementing blockchain technology into healthcare IT.
Earlier this month ONC announced 15 winners from this project, and the selected whitepapers can be found at this link. One of the contributing authors of a winning paper was Dr. John Halamka, the famous GeekDoctor blogger. He worked with MIT Media Lab to develop a medication reconciliation solution with blockchain. He summed up their approach as "Blockchain was invented to handle financial transactions such as deposits and withdrawals. Medication management is very similar to a bank account. Think of your body as a vault. When a clinician prescribes a new medication, a deposit is made. When a clinician discontinues a new medication, a withdrawal is made. If we add up all the deposits and withdrawals we end up with a perfectly accurate medication list of what you should be taking.". A diagram from the paper is below, and it can be read in its entirety here.
While this may be considered a bit theoretical and not immediately practical for current healthcare IT, there are many who are excited about, and elements of blockchain could eventually become part of our healthcare IT exchanges.