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Blockchain in Medicine

First, there was Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that utilizes blockchain, a decentralized system of data collection and transactions that we are told will defy hacking. (Wasn’t the Titanic said to be unsinkable?) We read that cryptocurrency and other blockchain functions will be a societal gamechanger, much like the internet was when Al Gore invented it some years ago.

My state of Ohio will now accept Bitcoin as payment for commercial taxes.

And, of course, there are many other cryptocurrencies mushrooming around us. In my life, many innovations seem to be solutions in search of problems. I don’t find my current methods of transacting business — cash and credit cards — to be so onerous that I am screaming for a new way to conduct commerce. But, I will admit that I have security concerns about my credit card number and other highly personal data being “safely stored” all over the internet. Some years ago, I enjoyed the thrill of being a victim of identity theft, which in gastrointestinal terms, is about as pleasurable as a rigid sigmoidoscopy. Just contacting the three credit agencies in the quest to reach living breathing human beings is a task that separates the weak from the robust.

Northeast Ohio is prepared to invest over $100 million to attract and cultivate blockchain investors. Will this create a blockchain bubble? We will see. Initial investors in Bitcoin hit the jackpot. But for many others who didn’t time their investments at a propitious moment, they lost big.

There are many aspects of our personal and professional lives that could utilize blockchain. And, like any new innovation, we don’t have to understand it to benefit from it. Do we know how our routers at home work? Of course, whenever a new disruption breaks in on the scene, many existing businesses and organizations will be threatened. Consider Amazon, the mother of all disruptors. Bitcoin, for example, could assume many functions of traditional banks and perform them better, more securely, and at less cost. If cryptocurrency can deliver, then those under threat will have to adapt, or they will be run over. Those players who are not adaptable will become obsolete. Typewriter repair is no longer an occupation.

In my profession, blockchain could offer incredible benefits. As a physician, the notion that I could easily access all of a patient’s medical data from my office would be a gamechanger. And, every new medical event would be instantly and securely added to a blockchain. The HIPAA police would become unemployed, another blockchain casualty. Imagine how this would affect medical care in an emergency department. Physicians, with access to the entire record, would be less likely to order medical tests if they could determine that they had already been done elsewhere. And, beyond the medical advantages, I’m sure the billers, coders, and insurance companies would also be hitching rides on the Blockchain Express.

Patients and I are often frustrated that even in our digital era today, I do not have easy access to their electronic records, which often exist in different medical systems and institutions. Wasn’t electronic medical records supposed to solve this?

Will blockchain become the coin of the medical realm? Has this post induced you to invest in cryptocurrency? My advice? Buy a CD instead. But, stay tuned.

Michael Kirsch, MD, is a gastroenterologist who blogs at MD Whistleblower. This post originally appeared on KevinMD.