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CIO: The benefits of blockchain technology will come to healthcare

According to one CIO, blockchain has a ways to go before reaching maturity, but, eventually, it will provide great value to healthcare.

The benefits of blockchain technology -- a type of distributed ledger that stores permanent records of transaction data and can ensure data has not been tampered with -- has gotten a lot of buzz in various industries, including in healthcare. While some experts have speculated that the benefits of blockchain technology will provide great value in healthcare when it comes to the security of protected health information and electronic health records, others have expressed their concern about the technology, given its ties to bitcoin.

Jon Russell, senior vice president and CIO at John Muir Health in Walnut Creek, Calif., discusses his thoughts on blockchain, including how comfortable he feels with the technology and for which use cases in healthcare he thinks blockchain will provide the most value.

Do you think blockchain is promising in the healthcare space, or do the concerns outweigh the possible benefits of blockchain technology?

Jon Russell: My guess is that this will absolutely have significant implications for security within healthcare and the ability for us to manage transactions at a level we've never been able to manage them at. It's very early on, so there's going to be a lot of maturing that has to happen. And we've seen the issues with bitcoin, which gives you an idea that it is pretty immature and there are things that, certainly for healthcare, would have to be addressed before we would move forward with blockchain.

But I think the concept has huge implications for healthcare and probably otherwise, and I think we'll see that technology one way or another implemented and have those significant impacts. We aren't there yet, but we certainly are moving that direction. I think, fairly soon, there will ... probably be some nascent technologies that come out that will be embraced, and then we'll see where it goes from there.

Once blockchain has matured, would you use it?

If it really has the impact that I think it's going to have, I think everyone will have to use it if you want to be competitive. I don't think there's any way around it.
Jon Russellsenior vice president and CIO at John Muir Health

Russell: If I felt comfortable with it, absolutely. If it really has the impact that I think it's going to have, I think everyone will have to use it if you want to be competitive. I don't think there's any way around it.

What do you think is the top use case for blockchain?

Russell: The ability to make sure a transaction is what it appears [to be] is probably the most intriguing thing for me. That certainly has a security implication, but the ability to aggregate significant amounts of information and provide access to many disparate systems is also a pretty significant ... fact, as it relates to blockchain. So, I think, yeah, there's obviously some security implications, but there's also potential aggregation of information and ability to connect systems, as well. There [are] a lot of very interesting things in that space.

Are you mostly excited about blockchain or wary?

Russell: I feel absolutely excited. I think, once again, it has the distinct possibility to make positive changes within our environment. We just have to figure out all the nuances and pitfalls before we're ready to roll it out.

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This was last published in June 2017

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