If you’ve heard of the word “blockchain,” you’ve probably heard it in conjunction with terms like bitcoin, cryptocurrency, ethereum, altcoins, miners, ledgers, hashrates — the list goes on. There seems to be a hazy world of investments and markets out there that, somehow, people are making insane amounts of money off of, but many don’t understand. On top of that, people talk about how revolutionary the blockchain is, but are honestly also not quite sure just how revolutionary.
Well you’re not sure just what it has to offer, you’re not alone. The VA has claimed to be interested in possibly using blockchain technology, they’re just not quite sure how yet and they remain admittedly skeptical. However, they do see it as a possibility with exciting implications. Charles Worthington, the VA’s chief technology officer, said in an interview with GovernmentCIO Magazine that,
I think we’re going to be coming to industry with problems we have, and if you think blockchain is an appropriate solution, bring it to us … We’re really looking to industry for the best ideas, and trying to be nimble enough to take advantage of those as this market evolves.”
While this seems like another way for the VA to stall progress, it also shows a willingness to step outside their internal system that constantly trips itself up. A step outside their inner circle could enable them to use the rapidly evolving technological world to upgrade their systems across the board. An attitude like that, blockchain or not, could be very healthy.
Worthington explains that one significant problem within VA systems is sharing information from one VA entity to another. Miscommunications (or a complete lack thereof) run notoriously rampant, and this has been the case for a long time. While most people think of the blockchain in regards to trading things like bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, the same concept has been applied to updating information, to include medical records. Medicalchain provides an explanation in the video below, and while they’re obviously trying to sell their particular system using blockchain technology, you get the idea (if you do not currently have an understanding of the basics of what the blockchain is, there is an explanation video from Wired at the bottom of this article):
It may seem complicated, but a key part within the VA would be making it user-friendly so an untrained person could easily login and update records accordingly.
A huge benefit of blockchain technology is that it creates a perfect auditing trail. There is no mistake as to what information is put down — even in the case of medical records. No central authority can change what’s been annotated, as that data isn’t kept in one location; it’s kept everywhere and is validated by every system involved.
Also (depending on its implementation) blockchain technology can be decentralized, meaning there would be no central authority managing everything. For those of you who are immediately skeptical of the VA or its employees, blockchain technology would be good news — no one doctor or hospital would be responsible for your records, and every update would, by definition, by an update across the VA system. That is, if it was implemented to operate as such.
It’s a new field, and while there have been several emerging fields using blockchain technology, there will undoubtedly be many more. The VA seems to be interested in waiting until these fields evolve further before latching on to something new — an overhaul for their system of keeping medical records would be no small task. Still, many companies (start-ups included) are currently pioneering the field, guinea pigs as the VA watches and learns.
Another thing to consider: while blockchain technology may bolster or upgrade their system, it is unlikely that it will be some cure-all to the existing problems today. Updating patient records is not the only issue the VA faces, and other solutions to this same problem have presented themselves in the past — there’s clearly something else they’re missing. However, there’s still hope, and with some progress might come new answers. Worthington says that, “The end solution could just look a lot like the solution we have today, assembled in a novel way that we were encouraged to think of because of blockchain.”
Wired created a great explanation on how blockchain technology works here:
Featured images courtesy of the VA and Pixabay, images combined and altered by the author. Videos courtesy of YouTube.