Electronic medical records (EMRs) contain a patient’s highly sensitive private information, including personally identifiable information and their healthcare records. However, these EMRs are created, maintained, and stored across multiple hospitals and healthcare providers, creating “data silos” and fragmented EMRs that cause major patient linkage and data sharing problems in healthcare.
“Blockchain” is a fairly new technology that could help solve this problem of fragmented health records. Based on the idea of a distributed peer-to-peer (P2P) network, the distributed nature of blockchain technology has the potential to bridge the existing “data silos” across the health system and bring the patient to the center of healthcare identity and information management. Before we can implement health data exchange between “data silos”, existing blockchain technologies must be adapted so that there is a clear system for managing a patient’s identity, allowing for reliable and secure patient matching and consent.
With the University of Texas Blockchain Initiative’s support, our team has developed and successfully tested an electronic decentralized identity management system prototype for the healthcare sector, called MediLinker. MediLinker uses blockchain technology in simulated environments and “virtual clinics” to test a unique approach to patient identity management using blockchain. It gives patients control over their own data and a secure way to share encrypted data, anonymously or otherwise, using blockchain networks. The next phase of this project is to adapt our electronic decentralized identity management system beyond our initial simulations to more complex healthcare scenarios, in order to better match the real-world environment in healthcare clinics.
MediLinker development has been supported in part by the University of Texas Blockchain Initiative through its Ripple Foundation funding. The research team participates in the University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI) network, an international collaboration of academic institutions.