Philly’s Life Sciences Industry Is Finally Coming Around to Blockchain

Blockchain technology worked for Bitcoin, but changing the slow bureaucracy of the healthcare industry may be a tougher feat.

Blockchain technology worked for Bitcoin, but can it change the slow bureaucracy of the healthcare industry? Getty Images | monsitj

You’ve probably heard the term blockchain used in conversations about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. But recently, the new technology that can record transactions in a shared, yet secure database has become a topic of discussion across several major industries, including healthcare.

For digital currencies, blockchain technology creates a chronological, read-only record of digital money transfers that is shared in a peer-to-peer network. This allows authorized users to make additions to the original record while simultaneously preventing even authorized users from deleting records or completing transactions without validation by all users.

In short, blockchain helps ensure accountability and trust, two things that Michael McCoy, blockchain implementation manager for Accenture, says the healthcare industry is in sore need of.

“Healthcare relies heavily on accurate data,” he explained. “Blockchain is really a trust mechanism. It’s very useful for multiple parties to be able to trust and authenticate either things in the physical world or data and information being provided in the digital world.”

Take for example the decentralized nature of electronic health records. A patient who sees doctors at several different hospitals may have critical pieces of their health record in a location where a practitioner is unable to access while providing care in another location. Further, there’s currently no real way to ensure that the records in either location are wholly accurate. Hypothetically, with blockchain, both doctors would be able to view a patient’s complete health record and make additions that are verified by all applicable parties. Gaining access to accurate medical records in a timely fashion is critical. This alone has the potential to improve health outcomes for patients.

But this is just one way that blockchain can be used in the healthcare space. According to McCoy, the technology can potentially be used to automate verification of insurance claims, improve healthcare supply chain management, or even give patients more control over who can access their health data.

Born in the early 90s and made popular in the late 2000s with Bitcoin, blockchain is still relatively new, which is why some in the healthcare industry are hesitant to embrace it. The technology itself is disruptive. For use in healthcare, blockchain would have to comply with a plethora of regulatory norms and industry guidelines, and implementation would have, for some, a steep learning curve.

One way to lessen industry leaders’ fear of blockchain may be teaching them how to use it.

In the fall, Thomas Jefferson University’s Institute of Emerging Health Professions will begin offering a first-of-its-kind graduate certificate known as Blockchain for Health Care. While several universities across the country have begun offering courses in blockchain and cryptocurrency, Jefferson’s will be the first graduate certificate program in the country that teaches blockchain specifically for use in life science and healthcare.

“We thought it was very appropriate to have this in Philadelphia because of Cellicon Valley and all of the dedicated research programs coming out of University City and across the city,” McCoy said. “Philadelphia alone is connected to 80 percent of all life sciences and biotech companies within 25 miles. So we believe this program will be very vital to bringing all of those different branches and silos together in an education forum.”

McCoy and Pepper Hamilton LLP partner Joseph Guagliardo will teach the four-course curriculum that is designed to walk students through the basics of blockchain technology, from privacy, ethics and regulatory issues to potential applications and ‘real world’ use in healthcare.