We caught up with Dr. Robert M. Learney about his research on Blockchain at Imperial College London. Dr Learney is one of our Thought Leaders in Blockchain.

Blockchains are a great tool for auditability and transparency. This characteristic made them very popular in various industries such as finance and banking. The Imperial College Centre for Cryptocurrency Research and Engineering (IC3RE) was built to research this digital tsunami and identify how it can disrupt the private and public sector. In March 2017, we had Dr Robert Learney from IC3RE mentoring our Blockchain in Healthcare Master Class.

Although blockchain initiatives in healthcare have been very discrete, there is a growing interest both on an academic and a corporate level. We recently caught up with Dr Robert Learney who explained: “Our work in healthcare has been focused on building test case systems for hierarchical access control of off-chain data stores managed by smart contracts. We think this allows for a scalable system where patients can take ownership of their own data.

Many questions are currently being raised around the use of the distributed ledger technology in the healthcare industry. The majority revolve around the management of electronic medical records and patient data. To allow patients to take ownership of their data, it is essential to understand the healthcare ecosystem and make sense of the different stakeholders that will need to interact with the information.

In healthcare, recent developments seem to be about building communities of interested parties, including a wide range of backgrounds and skills.

Dr Learney continued, technical considerations are perhaps the most complex to address. However, it is important for the viability of the project to define the exact nature of the systems and architectures that will be implemented in the future. Nevertheless, the rapid evolution in this field makes it very difficult to choose between various designs and define with certainty the winner.

Image from Dr Learney

While this technology appears to be very promising, there is a major challenge that it still has to overcome: scalability. This means ensuring the integrity of the information for all the patients, address compliance issues with the new GDPR, define the role of the patient and his control over the information and finally educate the community. Perhaps, the latter is the most challenging aspect. However, the team at IC3RE sees the impact of this technology on the health industry as very positive:

Blockchain or distributed ledger technology will be useful across a whole range of healthcare activities, from identity management, to access control, to data distribution, and flattening the landscape of ownership to remove it from silos.

If you want to learn more about blockchain please refer to our online resource and blockchain series.

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