The perfect equation for blockchain to become mainstream, Kristen Johns does the math

Blockchain is slowly establishing itself within the healthcare industry, specifically within the pharmaceutical and supply chain sectors.

Kristen Johns, a partner at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, has seen blockchain pick up momentum. However, she says there needs to be a specific calculation for the technology to become mainstream.

Below, Ms. Johns discusses where blockchain is being used in healthcare and how organizations can build buy-in for the technology among skeptical employees.

Editor's note: Reponses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What needs to happen for blockchain to become mainstream? Will this happen in the next 10 years?

Kristen Johns: Blockchain technology becoming mainstream depends on a calculus relying on regulatory factors, market conditions and a public that demands transparency and control over data. This calculus may be executed either through institutional change or through individuals asserting rights. Right now, regulators are providing frameworks for institutions to enable data sharing in the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, as an example. Applications of blockchain technology are inferred numerous times throughout the TEFCA draft in the descriptions of how individuals exercise certain rights, identity proofing, user authentication and auditable events.

Ultimately, blockchain technology underlies the application and an end user will not — and does not necessarily — need to know how a certain application functions.

If "internet" replaced "blockchain" in the question, the answer would be, "People need to use it." Here, entities need to build applications using blockchain technology to reap the benefits: trustless exchange, auditable activity and transparency.

Q: How is blockchain being used in healthcare?

KJ: The best example of blockchain in healthcare is Good Shepherd Pharmacy in Memphis, Tenn. It is a pharmacy using blockchain technology to fill gaping holes in the pharmaceutical supply chain for the benefit of under-served patients.

Q: For people skeptical about blockchain, how do you generate buy-in? 

KJ: Skepticism about blockchain is usually based on either experience with or inherent wariness of any innovative technology. Buy-in depends on the willingness of a person to listen and learn. Sometimes that buy-in simply will not happen, which is perfectly acceptable.

The real promise and potential behind blockchain technology can be in setting aside the conversation about technology altogether and focusing on alternative ways to approach a problem: defining barriers and current solutions. What if, for example, certain entities that do not have access to information had such access? What are the steps in any workflow and are they necessary — if so, why? Is the result in any workflow the best possible outcome? Answers to these questions might result in the adoption of a blockchain-based solution, but sometimes the technology is not the right fit. This analysis is a "journey is worth the ride" approach. As long as the final destination results in a better outcome, then the underlying technology may be an unimportant detail.

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