Recently, Donald Kersey, West Virginia’s election director and deputy legal counsel in the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, has planned to roll out mobile blockchain voting for the upcoming 2020 election. The application is designed by a startup called Voatz. Its initial rationale is to create a safe environment for those who are stationed overseas like military personnel to vote, increasing the overall voting rate as a result. 

The Voatz system uses biometric authentication to identify individual voters before they can cast their vote on an electronic ballot. Once it has been completed, the votes will be recorded into a private blockchain. The startup is using eight “verified validating nodes” or company-controlled computers to algorithmically validate the data prior locking it into the chain. 

What concerns cybersecurity experts is, the application itself is not blockchain based. It is a mobile application with a blockchain feature. It is may not be sufficient to protect any information or data that is about to travel over the internet. It also embeds uncertainty in accurately registering the choice of the voters on the system. Nevertheless, Kersey is not deterred and it’s likely the plan will process accordingly. 

Blockchain technology in medicine 

Blockchain is not something new for medicine. Last year, when the vaccine scandal broke out in China, there were calls for blockchain technology to be in place to ensure injections received by the public are safe. Similarly, there were also plans to use blockchain in electronic medical bills to enhance privacy and efficiency. Apart from that, blockchain is also being employed in other settings, such as storage of medical data, keeping track of clinical trials and managing supply of drugs

The IBM Institute for Business Value blockchain study, “Healthcare Rallies for Blockchain” surveyed 200 healthcare executives from 16 countries in 2017. It found that 16% of these executives partook in the survey had concrete plans to implement commercial blockchain solutions. 56% of them planned to roll them out by 2020. As promising as it sounds, present digital health architecture is still unable to ensure the safety of the system. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) journal termed 2018 as “a bad year for healthcare data breaches”. 

There were 351 reported data breaches, exposing more than 13 million healthcare records. As wearables, connected healthcare devices and the Internet of Medicine (IoM) grow prominent, the existing infrastructure may not be able to duly controlled what comes in and goes out of the system. To add to the challenge, healthcare requires efficiency and if the system becomes too cumbersome as it makes way for better security, the adoption may be low. 

Who has the control? 

Blockchain technology is widely acceptable because it is neither control by the government nor companies. A permissioned blockchain is set up for real-time data sharing between individuals who all have access to the same closed network. It is usually set up for peer-to-peer sharing. On the other hand, permissionless blockchain permits anyone to start interacting with the network. A permissioned blockchain is likely to be the one for healthcare. 

However, who should be the one to create this network and who should be allowed in it? Blockchain was designed with cryptocurrency in mind, so that individuals can trade freely without engaging financial institutions. This mindset, unfortunately, may not work for medicine, where the focus is on evidence-based care, safety and privacy. The largest disappointment of all, according to the American Medical Association (AMA), the industry is tying out blockchain in different areas but has yet to figure out the best use for healthcare. 

Indeed, blockchain may be a potential gamechanger, there probably won’t be a turn-back once it’s fully implemented. Nonetheless, before that day arrives, can blockchain be the panacea for healthcare, it remains a question. 

Author Bio
synthetic gene empathy chinese artificial intelligence data medicine healthcare ai

Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in current affair, culture and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.