Blockchain: the most disruptive tech in decades

A new blockchain-based payment system that KlickEx has created can process cross-border payments in seconds.

The Polynesian payments system provider partnered with IBM to create an open-source payment network as a new international exchange based on a blockchain electronic ledger. The new network uses IBM's Blockchain Platform, a cloud service, to enable the electronic exchange of 12 different currencies across Pacific Islands as well as in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

"In bringing IBM in to mature the technology, we think we're pushing something like 8 million...payments per day capacity, which is a long way up from where we started," KlickEx CEO Robert Bell said. "So the new real-time system based on blockchain means payment happens immediately, rather than in batch files."

Blockchain in healthcare

Blockchain can also act as a collaboration network, enabling varying parties to exchange and add to information, such as a patient's electronic healthcare record, in real time. The blockchain acts as a verification tool, ensuring only those authorized users — such as a physician, insurance provider or patient — to make changes to the ledger.

MintHealth, a portable, personal health record, was recently announced as a mobile platform based on a blockchain exchange. MintHealth will be rolling out the platform to commercial health insurance plans to help patients with chronic conditions, such as heart failure, diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions that account for more than 90% of healthcare costs today. In addition, patients at risk for, but not yet suffering from, chronic conditions will also benefit by having access to their medical records and control of their own health data by entering data such as vital signs or blood glucose levels.

Blockchain-enabled data allows for real-time movement of clinical and behavioral data between existing physician and patient data siloes; and machine learning on a growing patient database can help identify predictors of diseases and poor health.

"The initial step of digitizing health data in electronic health record systems (EHRs) moved us towards value-based care. Blockchain technology holds great promise for enabling the data liquidity necessary to execute on our vision of improved population health, and at lower cost," said Tee Green, executive chairman of Greenway Health, an electronic health record vendor that has partnered on the MintHealth app.

IBM Watson Health and the US Food and Drug Administration are also exploring the use of blockchain for secure patient data exchange, including sensitive electronic medical records, clinical trials and data culled from mobile devices and wearables.

How is blockchain likely to evolve?

Regardless of who developed it, businesses should always take a pragmatic approach when adopting any new technology, according to Gupta. "You can't ignore it, but you can't just blindly adopt a new technology. The key is to see if it makes sense for your business problem."

More than 15 blockchain distributed ledger platforms are being developed in parallel, with specialist applications on top of them, according to Gupta. The industry will need further standardization to encourage widespread adoption.

"Such challenges are common with new technologies," he said, "and even with this concern, blockchain is seeing a lot of interest."

According to Angus Champion de Crespigny, Ernst & Young's Blockchain Leader, blockchain distributed ledger technology is well suited to propagate security policies and identity access management, which can traverse a myriad of markets. The fact that each blockchain record contains a unique cryptographic hash that is used to track that block, as well as others in the associated chain, means data cannot be modified. That makes it perfect for record keeping and auditing purposes, he added.