You may have heard the phrase ‘blockchain’ being thrown around more and more. So what is it?
While many websites use impressive data words to describe it, Blockchain is simply a shared, digital database; a digital record book. What makes blockchain different is the concept of storing copies of a database over multiple users’ computers. It is essentially a record book shared via multiple copies, stored on multiple computers.
This is all achieved through the use of large amounts of computing power and complex algorithms, all with the consent of a large number of its users. This design allows digital databases to simplify the task of record-keeping and to force the data to remain accurate by sourcing it from multiple parties; thus increasing difficulty to ‘cheat’ such systems.
How can we use it?
This new technology can prove beneficial to databases with a focus on high value, low data-volume transactions, such as that of Bitcoin. While Bitcoin is another confusing new digital development, it is essentially made possible by blockchain. This partially explains why Bitcoin has become such a big deal of late, as blockchain has made the maintenance of recording such high value money transactions much more simple. Every Bitcoin transaction is carefully scrutinized and stored into this database amongst its copies in computers worldwide.
Does it work for everything?
Despite blockchain proving useful in these areas, it cannot cope with intense, complicated amounts of data. To elaborate, the more fields you need to include in this record book (e.g name, age, birthday, etc.), the worse this system copes. While blockchain is a very accurate and useful database, it is an incredibly slow system.
This means that blockchain-based systems would not manage to maintain a database such as that of health and medical records. As explained earlier, the more columns required in this table of records, the more complicated it becomes to use. So for data such as monetary transactions, it works, because there is less data per transaction: name, age, bank account details, amount of money transferred, etc.
Medical records, on the other hand, are virtually never ending, requiring data such as name, age, birthday, gender, blood type, blood pressure, allergies, current health issues, past health issues, medications… and the list goes on. This completely overloads this sort of database to the point where it struggles to function efficiently. The need to acquire data instantly is invaluable to the medical industry, especially in situations such as a medical emergency, and blockchain is truly incapable of such a task.
Furthermore, an essential and vital element of medical records is that they remain confidential to the public. The privacy of these records is less secure with a network such as blockchain, as the database rests amongst multiple computers using blockchain, and it is much easier to be hacked into.
This is of great concern, as there is an increasingly high interest in using blockchain for such purposes. According to a recent IBM survey of 200 health care executives in 16 countries, 16% of these executives are investigating in the use of blockchain within the medical industry, showing higher interest than that of finance and banking sectors.
As explained by Sorsix chief, Dailbor Frutnik, “The idea that the blockchain makes things permanently secure is bullshit branding and not true”.
Is it worth it?
While there is much hype in the present moment, and there is always the possibility of further improvements, blockchain is currently only useful for smaller scale databases such as that of financial transaction, and should be kept separate from that of larger scale databases such as that of the healthcare industry.
As long as the hype lasts, everything blockchain touches turns to gold.