NIST publishes blockchain overview: Here's what the agency had to say about healthcare

The National Institute of Standards and Technology at the U.S. Department of Commerce released a draft of a report titled "Blockchain Technology Overview" in January.

NIST published the report to serve as a "high-level technical overview" of blockchain. It provides an in-depth look at the technology's role in electronic currency, as well as its potential applications in other industries, such as banking, insurance and supply chain.

Blockchain, which the report refers to as an "immutable digital ledger system," is a permanent and shared record of online transactions or exchanges. Unlike a traditional database that is centrally located and maintained by one party, a blockchain record can be shared among a network of users.

"At its most basic level, [blockchain enables] a community of users to record transactions in a ledger public to that community such that no transaction can be changed once published," the report reads.

In the draft report, NIST suggested blockchain's potential to streamline manual record-keeping processes in the healthcare sector.

"Whenever someone visits a care provider, a myriad of transactions take place behind the scenes," the report reads.

Records of these processes — which might assess a patient's benefits, eligibility or insurance coverage — are held in disparate systems by hospitals, insurers and pharmacies. Writing these records on the blockchain would centralize relevant patient data throughout the continuum of care.

"The use of blockchain technology is not a silver bullet, and there are issues that must be considered such as how to deal with malicious users, how controls are applied, and the limitations of any blockchain implementation," the report reads. "That said, blockchain technology is an important concept that will be a basis for many new solutions."

To access NIST's draft report, click here.

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