by Peter B. Nichol

Blockchain collaboration defines the fabric for healthcare 2.0

Apr 12, 2016
Emerging TechnologyHealthcare IndustryInnovation

Standardization is holding blockchain back. From IP to ARPANET, let's explore the fabric needed for blockchain’s adoption in healthcare.

Blockchain is part of the Internet-of-Things, the Fifth Wave of the Internet. In 1961, Leonard Kleinrock, a professor of computer science at UCLA, wrote about ARPANET and developed the first theory of packet switching. The first node of the Internet was born September 1969. The days of 1969 seem like eons ago. Tearing a page from the history the Internet may help us forecast tomorrow’s blockchain trends. A foundational blockchain fabric must be established before blockchain will be mainstream and accessible to the company down the street.

Blooming of blockchain applications

Healthcare related blockchain applications are sprouting up all around up. Tierion lets you create a verifiable record of any data, file, or business process on the blockchain. Gem, the platform uses multi-signature, hardware security modules (HSMs), and cryptographic keychains to address identity and information access security, which acts as an application layer blockchain protocol. Factom is looking to secure data and possibly medical records using the technology behind bitcoin. Guardtime, a cyber-security provider that uses blockchain systems to ensure the integrity of data, is partnering with the Estonian e-Health Authority to secure over a million health care records. MedVault, a proof-of-concept that would allow patients to record medical information on the Bitcoin blockchain. MedVault works with Colu for digital assets issuance and management on top of the bitcoin blockchain using API and SDKs.

Companies around the global are exploring the value of blockchain. Will every business have to build a full blockchain stack from scratch? Ethereum and others have built an entire blockchain stack including the application layer hoping to corner the market. R3 (R3CEV LLC) isn’t building a blockchain. R3 Corda™ is focusing on individual agreements between firms (“state objects”, governed by “contract code” and associated “legal prose”). The Hyperledger project is building the fabric of the blockchain. 

Hyperledger and the Linux Foundation

The Hyperledger project is led but not owned by IBM and overseen by the Linux Foundation. The project’s objective is to create a framework to allow the ability to transfer assets digitally. The Linux Foundation collaborative project HyperLedge is a collaboration of some of the most innovative companies to create an operating system for interactions that has the potential to vastly reduce the cost and complexity of getting things done. The best and brightest companies across finance, banking, internet of things, supply chains, manufacturing, and technology are joining the cause. As of April 2016, 40 companies are committed to this mission. The collaboration companies include: Accenture, CME Group, Deutsche Borse Group, Digital Asset, DTCC, Fujitsu, Hitachi, IBM, Intel, J.P.Morgan, R3, ABN-AMRO, ANZ, Blockchain, Blockstream, bloq, BNY Mellon, Casastone, CISCO, CLS, Consensys, CREDITS, Evue Digital Labs, Gem, guardtime, intellect, itBit, Milligan Partners, Montran, NEC, NTT DATA, redhat,, State Street, Swift, symbiont, tequa creek, Thomson Reuters, vmware, Wells Fargo, and adding new companies fast.

Blockchain’s open source fabric

Similar to standard network protocols a foundational layer must be in place for other systems to operate and build. This lack of foundation would be akin to every company rewriting Linux or Windows to deploy their applications. These core layers must be established before blockchain applications can be built. We can’t build on Layer 7 of the Open System Interconnect model without the benefit of supporting layer stability. Consortiums are forming to do just that. 

The Hyperledger project is already on Github. Ripple’s contributed with an open source, C++ implementation of a public and distributed ledger. IBM added an Open Blockchain (OBC) that is a low-level blockchain fabric designed to meet the requirements of a variety of industry-focused use cases. According to GitHub, “the central elements of this implementation are smart contracts (what IBM calls chain code), digital assets, record repositories, a decentralized network providing consensus, and cryptographic security.” Digital Asset Holdings contributed an enterprise ready blockchain server with a client API; that adds an append-only log of financial transactions designed to be replicated at multiple organizations without centralized control. Blockstream contributed the Elements Project, a modularized fork of the Bitcoin codebase that adds several significant improvements called “Elements.” Github is the open source repository for Hyperledger collaboration. IBM’s Bluemix offer chain code, the embedded business logic that enables the definition of assets and provides the ability to write transaction instructions. Open source collaborators will construct the future fabric of the blockchain.

Blockchain is growing faster today than the initial excitement of the internet in 1995. Open source fabrics will provide the foundation for innovation as companies collaborate to build the Internet’s Fifth Wave.