The UK has now seen the first live use of blockchain technology as a means to access patient medical records. This is as part of a service called MyClinic which is being piloted in the UK by start-up Medicalchain, and private healthcare providers.
In a blockchain system, patient electronic health records are encrypted, and pieces distributed across a network of computers running the system. Every change to the records is tracked across multiple computers in parallel. This means that errors which might enter the record on one local system will be compared against the wider network of records and corrected. The network tracking the changes does so with the encrypted records, without needing to know the contents. Any part of the system can call up any record, but will not be able to decode it. The owner of the individual record (typically assumed to be the patient) then provides access to any organisation with a need to access the record by providing them the means to decrypt it. Different degrees of access could be provided depending on need (e.g. a GP might be permitted to see the whole record, while a pharmacy might only see information needed for prescribing).
The decentralised nature of blockchain technology has been of interest as a means for allowing medical records to be shared with multiple healthcare provider organisations. This is particularly important in countries where patients can expect to see multiple providers like the US, rather than the UK where most patients are treated under the umbrella of the NHS. If multiple providers draw from the same blockchain system it offers the possibility of reducing many current issues with electronic health record compatibility.
The key feature of a blockchain system is that it provides strong data integrity, meaning that if records are passed to a different provider, the existing records cannot be lost, corrupted, or fall out of synch with each other. The system can also be attractive from the perspective of giving patients control of their own health information, and reducing access to data as a barrier-to-entry for smaller and newer providers.