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Blockchain and healthcare: the Estonian experience

by Taavi Einaste, Head of Digital Healthcare at Nortal, February 21, 2018

In 2016, the Estonian government was looking for new and innovative ways to secure the health records for its 1.3 million residents. It turned to blockchain technology.

It may or may not revolutionize the internet, depending on who you ask. But without doubt, the incorruptible distributed ledger technology known as blockchain has proved its potential for applications where data integrity is critical.

Away from the frenetic world of cryptocurrency, developers and investors are searching high and low for new areas they can unleash blockchain’s power. Finance, logistics and electronic copyrights top the list as the most talked about. The same goes for healthcare in Estonia, specifically with regard to securing patients’ electronic health records. Still, practical cases have proven hard to identify.

Estonia, home to one of the world’s most e-savvy governments, has become the first country to dabble in using blockchain for healthcare on a national scale. In 2016, the Estonian E-Health Foundation launched a development project aimed at safeguarding patient health records using blockchain technology in archiving related activity logs.

Estonia has become the first country to use #blockchain for healthcare on a national scale

“We are using blockchain as an additional layer of security to help us ensure the integrity of health records. Privacy and integrity of healthcare information are a top priority for the government and we are happy to work with innovative technologies like the blockchain to make sure our records are kept safe,” said Artur Novek, the foundation’s Implementation Manager and Architect.

It’s not the health records that are secured using blockchain, but the log files that record all the data processing activities performed on those records. Securing such highly private health information from prying eyes is only part of the goal. It is just as important to mitigate every risk that life-critical personal data could become compromised by an unwitting or malicious hacker or a fraudulent insider.

Digital watchdog

An archive or ledger with a backbone built on blockchain technology can record and timestamp each instance of access or each change to a patient’s electronic records. Its cryptographic hash functions create an unchangeable audit trail that can be monitored. It also guarantees that the most recent version of the record is always used.

In Estonia’s case, a private digital ledger has been integrated into the ledger at the E-Health Foundation to record and track patient medical data. One of the goals was to have real-time awareness of the integrity of the stored data, so that administrators could see any breaches and act immediately to limit damage. Mostly though, it’s about barring would-be electronic intruders and keeping alterations from happening in the first place.

The project in Estonia is still a work in progress, but I believe that other nations that use electronic health records could soon follow suit.

Nortal is looking into practical ways to use this Estonian experience in other innovative and cutting edge markets, like the GCC countries. Get in touch with me to find out more!

Taavi Einaste

Taavi Einaste, Head of Digital Healthcare at Nortal, has extensive experience in digitalizing both governments and healthcare organizations. He is a firm believer that the future for healthcare will be in precision medicine. In order to get there, healthcare will first have to become more digital so that the data collected could be best utilized for patients’ needs. To know how he can assist you in building a real digital healthcare system or any other type of digital organization, get in touch with him via email.