Could Blockchain Technology Be The Future Of Healthcare Startup Security?

Could Blockchain Technology Be The Future Of Healthcare Startup Security?

by Noah Rue

This article is a part of our "Splunk and Cybersecurity" edition, which can be purchased at:

One in four of all data breaches that occur happen in the healthcare industry. And with numbers like these and the value of electronic health records (EHRs) on the black market, the prospect of a healthcare startup is, understandably, especially risky. After all, if a single data breach runs the risk of costing your startup up to millions in damages while putting patients at risk, how can you navigate a new healthcare venture safely?

Luckily, a solution is emerging in the prevalence and improvements to blockchain technology. Blockchains are a decentralized form of data storage that keeps data stored in linked “blocks,” which are highly protected by cryptography and chained together to prevent interference.

With the potential of this technology in securing healthcare data and preventing cyberattacks, the question has to be asked: could blockchain technology be the future of healthcare startup security?

Some companies are already implementing these solutions, but for the industry to more feasibly use blockchain tech at scale, continued innovations need to be made to secure a safe future for healthcare startups using blockchains.

Here’s what you should know.

The Cybersecurity Problems Faced by Healthcare Startups

Cybersecurity is essential in the world of healthcare. With incredibly vulnerable data points often collected by care facilities and insurance providers, medical data is highly valuable on the black market. Cyber criminals target this data and sell it for profit, while care facilities struggle to make up for the damages. This cost on average is $363 per record, according to Duquesne University. Since these attacks usually result in thousands of records stolen, costs per attack average at $6.5 million.

For any healthcare startup, this is a price tag that could effectively shut down a burgeoning business. Patient data — including social security numbers, employers, addresses, date of birth, and much more — is compromised, and the reputation of an organization’s security is put at risk.

Lengthy legal processes are the next step, resulting in additional costs for healthcare institutions as they attempt to protect themselves and patients in a complicated system of liability and damages.

The problems posed by the vulnerability of EHRs makes beginning a healthcare business a risky venture. One alternative is maintaining a physical system of records, but that is archaic and does not lend to a competitive and highly functioning practice. Healthcare startups are between a rock and a hard place.

But blockchain tech could be the answer.

The Solutions Posed by Blockchain Tech

Blockchain technology is emerging as the solution to healthcare data vulnerability. With its cryptographic protections and accessibility in patient use and big data analysis, blockchains offer the future of healthcare what no other cybersecurity framework can.

Blockchains are decentralized, meaning the data doesn’t exist only in one server in one location. Instead, it exists on a cloud, with data blocks secured by linked cryptographic functions. For a single block to be altered, the hash encryptions of the entire blockchain have to be changed as well, and the computing power necessary to do this makes altering data more or less impossible. The information stored within a blockchain is highly immutable and easily traceable, due to the cryptographic hashes. This is essential in securing healthcare data and maintaining HIPAA privacy standards.

Here’s what blockchain technology could offer a healthcare startup:

  • Security

The potential of blockchain technology in cutting down on cyberattacks and stolen medical data is all too valuable. With the massive damage done by thousands of patient files stolen at once, healthcare organizations sustain massive losses. With blockchain tech, every patient’s data would exist within a separate block, preventing mass theft.

With every block under its own specific cryptographic keys, only authorized users would have access. In the event that block is compromised, care facilities are looking at individualized theft rather than massive, costly attacks. This is security that could mean the survival of healthcare startups.

  • Trackability

Along with the added security provided by a blockchain, the cryptographic hashes within the system allow for recording of every instance of access to the data. Healthcare facilities would be able to spot exactly when, where, and who accessed patient data. If the use was unauthorized, they would be better equipped to track down the source of the intrusion and prevent more occurrences from happening in the future. This provides another level of security that healthcare startups need to maintain patient trust and security.

  • Accountability

With a decentralized system, blockchain data could be owned directly by the patient. Access, then, would be directly tied to patient approval, as they would have the cryptographic keys to access their data. This takes much of the burden off the care facility and gives all the power to individual patients. They could transfer their data easily between care facilities and directly approve what data is used and where.

  • Clarity

With the transferability and immutability of blockchain healthcare data comes a clarity in patient records difficult to match in today’s convoluted and individualized system of private EHR networks. Blockchain tech has the power to track patient information like allergies to medications and history and bring that information with the patient wherever they need to be treated.

In addition, blockchain tech has the power to allow healthcare professionals and scientists better visibility and study in bettering care techniques. Data would still need to be de-identified — stripped of information like name or social security number that could connect data to individual patients — but with a decentralized chain of healthcare data showing treatments, results, symptoms, and diagnoses, healthcare as a whole stands to improve.

For a healthcare startup, blockchain technology may become fundamental to cybersecurity. However, there are hurdles to the implementation of blockchain that the healthcare industry must clear first.

The Hurdles of Implementing Blockchain in Healthcare

Blockchain technology has come far. It is the technology responsible for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and already it is being utilized in projects like MIT’s MedRec. But full implementation of blockchain tech in healthcare first has to clear two major hurdles:

1. The Private vs. Public Blockchain Question

There are two primary varieties of blockchains: public and private. Public blockchains operate on a fully decentralized platform, an open marketplace in which anyone in the world can participate. Private blockchains, on the other hand, are managed on a closed network. Only those allowed in by network administrators can participate.

Each system comes with its own specific security risks. Public blockchains are open to more risks as participation in the blockchain ecosystem cannot be regulated. Private networks give more security for patient data and the care facilities that help steward it. However, by implementing a private network, healthcare data still has to be managed in a somewhat centralized network, increasing vulnerability within the system.

2. Storage Capacity

Currently, blockchain networks do not allow for the capacity to store much data. Healthcare data in its entirety could not fit on the kind of blockchains used by Bitcoin, for example. Systems like the MedRec project instead use the blockchain to store smart contracts that then allow access to properly authorized users.

This system gives the kind of accountability and trackability of healthcare data that the industry needs from a blockchain system, but it still necessitates the storage of EHRs in a care facility network that could be vulnerable to attack. Until the capabilities of blockchains adjust to accommodate for more storage of healthcare data, that data remains at risk.

In spite of these hurdles, blockchain technology represents an optimistic future for healthcare startups. With the security, trackability, accountability, and clarity enabled by such a system, the promises of progress in this direction are too valuable to ignore.

Cybersecurity costs the healthcare industry billions every year, but with blockchain security, those losses can be significantly reduced. Any entrepreneur interested in the healthcare industry should take an interest and perhaps invest in the potential of blockchain for a more secure future.

This article is a part of our "Splunk and Cybersecurity" edition, which can be purchased at:

About the Author

Noah Rue is a journalist and content writer, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn't searching out his next great writing opportunity, Noah likes to shut off his devices and head to the mountains to disconnect.

Photo by Launchpresso from Pexels

August 21, 2020
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