Blockchain is a complex technology that aims to streamline repetitive, data-intensive tasks. It has become more than a hot buzzword in government IT circles, it is already being put into practice.
One way to think of blockchain is as a database that is jointly managed by a distributed set of participants. Adding data requires the "sign off" of everyone in the chain, verifying that the transaction is legitimate. Because of this interconnectedness, it is inherently secure. Every piece is linked to another, changing one piece will impact the rest of the chain (just like that one bulb going out on your Christmas lights) alerting all owners to an issue.
Government agencies are drawn to the security and transparency provided by blockchain to improve the efficiency and stability of processes requiring strict audit trails. NIST has provided guidance to help educate as well as encourage organizations to begin trying out blockchain approaches. Continue reading
National Health IT Week was designed to raise awareness of the role IT plays in healthcare and to move forward the use of IT solutions that make a difference in the quality of patient care. The field of Health IT has evolved greatly from using technology to help with administrative functions and patient records. Today, Health IT is at the bedside with telemedicine consults, IoT medical devices, patient education, and more. Additionally, the health market is looking to emerging technologies like blockchain to help with chain of custody of records and controlled substances. IT is also playing a huge role in public health by using data analytics to spot patterns and trends in everything from flu outbreaks to opioid abuse.
With all of these opportunities for IT to become part of the delivery of healthcare there are of course huge security concerns. Publicity around breeches and ransomware incidents have put the industry on high alert to be proactive in their security and responsive to public concern about the security of private health data. Continue reading
Blockchain is a new way to structure data for greater sharing and security. Its algorithm and distributed data structure were initially designed to manage online currency (like bitcoin) in a way that does not need a central administrator to distribute it among people. This removed the need for a middleman (like a bank) to authenticate that what was being transferred was real currency. Instead, this authentication happens because all of the nodes on a peer-to-peer network connected to the block (the asset, money, or data) have to "approve" its transfer to a new party (a good image of this process is found here).
Blockchain essentially provides an online ledger book. The records (or blocks) are individually secured using cryptography that links them to one another and gives each block its own timestamp and provides data about that particular transaction (who it went to). Looking at the ledger you can see where data started and where it went. Through cryptography and the intricate linkages, the blocks (the original asset) cannot be tampered with. This traceability and security has gotten the attention of the government as a way to better protect sensitive data and transactions. Agencies are investigating how to use it to speed procurement, secure employee records, and better enable electronic health records.[Tweet "The traceability & security of blockchain tech has gotten the attention of the Government. #GovEventsBlog"] Continue reading
The federal healthcare market is a dynamic space that plays a role in many of today's key political and societal challenges. From insurance reform, to identity theft and ransomware attacks, to a focus on the opioid crisis, healthcare has been front and center in the news cycles. Agencies across the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are intimately involved in responses to these challenges. It is a large and complex organization that relies on the help of industry partners to meet the ever-evolving public health needs of the nation.[Tweet "Getting a Pulse on Health and Human Services. #GovEventsBlog"]
Some current key challenges facing the Department are:
- IT modernization - About 40 percent of the systems of record in HHS are legacy systems in need of modernization. The agency has a goal of bringing 30 percent of its operational systems into the cloud in the coming years. It will do this with an annual IT spend of $13.8 billion.
- Interoperability - As part of the IT modernization, HHS is looking at interoperability as a key solution. Interoperability, of course, has a technical component, including looking at key tech trends such as blockchain and HL7 FHIR. There is also the need for process interoperability, including changing procurement policy and practices.
- HIPAA - Having been on the books for over 20 years, HIPAA is still evolving to meet the needs of today's providers and patients. In an age of data breaches, compliance with HIPAA security guidance is a key focus of all health organizations. While IT security may be getting beefed up, other guidance is being loosened to better serve the public health. Recently, HHS released new guidance on when and how healthcare providers can share a patient's health information with family members, friends, and/or a legal representative when a patient is in crisis from opioid abuse.[Tweet "Key challenges facing the HHS include: IT Modernization, Interoperability and HIPAA #GovEventsBlog"]