#Hashing it Out: Blockchain Terms Explained Part 1.

Read the first part of our new series below, Hashing it Out: Blockchain Terms Explained to understand more about the technology behind our project.

Blockchain Technology can apply to a plethora of multiple industries but one of the most promising areas is within the healthcare sector. In order for this developing technology to reach its full potential, it is important that we understand how it will intersect and influence our daily lives, just like the internet has done since its creation.  

There are a lot of buzzwords and technical jargon associated with the topic which can be confusing at times. PharmaLedger uses many blockchain-related terms, which is why we have decided to create a blockchain education series so that you can better understand the technology behind our project. This is part one in PharmaLedger’s Blockchain Terms Explained, which will demystify blockchain technology terms, how it applies to healthcare and most importantly its relation to you, the patient.

1. Blockchain Technology

Blockchain Technology is a term used for Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) , which is essentially a system of recording information and data in a way that makes it very difficult and nearly impossible to change, hack, or alter.

What it means for healthcare

So, what do we mean when we say “blockchain-enabled healthcare”? 

PharmaLedger is using this technology to create a digital healthcare ecosystem. We believe that the features of this technology will accelerate clinical development by connecting different members of the healthcare and pharmaceutical ecosystem. It will also bring value and transparency to a system that is not currently trusted by the general public.

PharmaLedger: Blockchain Explained – What is Blockchain?

2. Assets

A blockchain asset is a digital asset that is recorded and stored on a DLT network. These digital assets can be tangible (like money, land, vehicles, equipment, or inventory), or intangible (like patents, trademarks, copyrights or intellectual property rights). Different blockchains contain different information and transactional data stored on them. An example of this is the well-known digital cryptocurrency “Bitcoin,” where the digital cryptoassets can be sent between users using specific public addresses and stored in encrypted wallets both on and off-line. These cryptoassets can only be accessed by user’s who hold the private keys for these wallets and transferred accordingly for goods and services within the Bitcoin ecosystem.

What it means for healthcare

We all have heard about the cryptocurrency “Bitcoin,” but what do digital assets, blockchain and healthcare have in common? These digital assets are stored on a blockchain, so an example in healthcare could be the shipping of pharmaceutical medicine and its associated supply chain information. This would contain information on the active pharmaceutical ingredient, where it was sourced, manufactured, produced and made in its final form (tablet/capsule, etc). 

All the important information of a given medicine would be stored on a blockchain through a scannable code. The manufacturer of the medicine would know exactly where along it is in the supply chain at a certain timeframe. Let’s say a patient receives this medicine. They could scan a special code on the medication box and check exactly where it was produced, as well as any important information associated with it (batch recalls, etc). This is just one example of how the medication’s data can be stored as a digital asset and used in the healthcare industry. You can find out more about PharmaLedger’s Finished Goods Traceability use case to find out how blockchain is used throughout the supply chain.

3. Immutability

Blockchain Technology makes data stored on it immutable, meaning it cannot be changed or tampered with. Whatever is stored is permanent, so it cannot be altered at a future date or time. A blockchain is made up of blocks (transactions of data) that have a special identifying code called a “hash value.” Each new transaction builds upon the previous one, so these hash values show proof of each previous transaction. Each block of transactions within the chain contains the previous hash of the last block, therefore if it is tampered with, it will make the previous blocks and all other subsequent blocks invalid. This is a major advantage to storing data and transactions since the blockchain is storing the data. Bias, human error and judgement don’t apply to this system.

What it means for healthcare

Healthcare and patient data are very sensitive matters, especially when it comes to privacy and patient confidentiality. If someone wants to travel and creates a fraudulent PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test result, they would have multiple problems if it was governed on a blockchain. This could prevent fraudulent cases where people purposely alter their information in order to travel without being compliant with government restrictions.

4. Healthcare Ecosystem 

The healthcare system is complex, with many procedures and stakeholders involved. In order for these systems to work well, processes need to be aligned with common goals so that all of those involved can reap the benefits, which is more effective healthcare. A healthcare ecosystem is where all of these various players and systems work together to create a web of interrelated processes that work together efficiently. This is where blockchain technology can help.  

What it means for healthcare

Building a healthcare ecosystem using blockchain technology allows for all parties involved (medicine manufacturer, clinical trials practitioner, shipping company, wholesaler, medical practitioner, patient) to work together more efficiently and share data more adeptly. This will ultimately create a web of information transfer and interconnectivity between stakeholders with blockchain technology at its core. The blockchain characteristics of transparency and immutability will govern and enable trust and empower patients, which is the future of healthcare that the PharmaLedger project is working on with its eight use cases. You can read more about the project in the PharmaLedger Official Presentation.

5. Trust & Transparency

These two terms are often associated with blockchain technology. There are many trust-related issues that need to be addressed in the healthcare industry, such as managing consent and keeping health data records secure. Blockchain allows for immutable data storage (what is recorded cannot be changed or tampered with) that can be traced, which means that what is stored, recorded and viewed on a blockchain can be trusted. Transparency allows for the exchange of confidential personal information anonymously. This is a core attribute associated with decentralisation, which is a characteristic linked to Blockchain technology. At PharmaLedger, we want patients to become empowered and in control of their data.

What it means for healthcare

Data that is stored online or offline that can be accessed through the use of blockchain technology has the ability to maintain integrity and authenticity. Granting patients power over their healthcare data is one way that trust and transparency are strengthened in the industry. Another important feature of blockchain is allowing for traceability of what is stored, which can be applied to tracing finished products such as medicine. A patient can scan a medical product and be confident that that given medicine is authentic. These are just a few examples of how trust and transparency are related to blockchain and how they can improve the healthcare industry.

This concludes the first part of our Hashing it Out: Blockchain Terms Explained series. You can look forward to parts two and three in the upcoming weeks! You’ll be able to better understand terms such as smart contract, interoperability and patient empowerment. 

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