Saturday, 19 September 2020

The Argument for Blockchain

And why business people are disappointed when you explain how a realistic system works.

The biggest argument for blockchain technology is usually transparency. Since all transactions that ever happen are recorded, it’s supposed to be easy enough to find all transactions related to some piece of information you want to know about.
The second is immutability. We’re not supposed to be able to change any data previously entered.
The third is security. We love to present examples of big networks with so many peer nodes running that no hacker could ever take them down.
These ideas sound great on paper right? You can certainly take them to your upper level management and convince them it’s a great idea. Then they might start asking what an implementation would look like and ask for a high level development plan as well as some sound facts on how it would benefit the company.

This is where it all falls apart

In order to truly make use of blockchain technology as we know it, it usually requires integration with other systems (particularly with other companies’ systems) to make good use of data available.

A blockchain with only a specific subset of data is no better than a regular database

For example, I work in the insurance industry. If we created a chain for customer data, it wouldn’t look too much different than the multiple systems currently integrated to handle the same thing. As in, it handles all the same data, we just can’t get rid of any.

Blockchain’s real super power

If we made a combined system with our physician network and hospital network as well as our current in house system, this is where the transparency of blockchain makes itself useful. It fills in the gaps of what we know about our customers. It makes their health data more widely available rather than siloed.
Trust me, it’s a good thing, I’ll give you a couple cases.

In the case of addicts

As I’m sure at least some amount of people know, it’s not unknown for a drug addict to visit a hospital seeking to gain a prescription for medication they’re addicted to by fraudulent means. They go in faking some pain, convince some doctor they need meds for pain management, and go on their way to feed their habit.
Now, wouldn’t it be much more helpful if hospitals and physicians had a shared system so they couldn’t fool the system into letting them stay addicted? The answer is generally yes, yes it would.

In the case of chronic conditions or severe drug allergies

In today’s world, it also isn’t uncommon for people to arrive in emergency rooms, unable to speak and having no one to speak for them that they have chronic conditions or drug allergies. If they require surgery, or are going to be given some drug in order to help, most hospitals won’t readily have this information that can mean life or death for a patient.
If we had this fabled shared system, it could mean saving more lives.

In the case of supply chain transparency

This is an example of where blockchain has shined. One example is outlined here. It’s a case study of how Walmart uses blockchain to trace food back to its suppliers in the case of food-borne disease outbreaks. While it certainly doesn’t cover all their suppliers, it’s a small example of how data transparency is supposed to work.

So why don’t business partners jump on it?

Proprietary data is always held sacred. It’s like the bible before the printing press.
Their idea is that without being the sole accessors to the data, the power of it is suddenly lost. That sharing the data means they’re letting money walk out the door.
In our capitalistic society, we focus heavily on the idea of scarcity. Meaning we need to hold onto the resources we have because we might not be able to get more of them. We don’t want to share our data because if we don’t gate keep it, we no longer have power or control over that resource. Which also means that resource is no longer ours.
I’m not going to argue that it’s not true, because it partially is true. While we would still control who has access to the system, when they’re in the system, we are no longer the sole accessors of such data.

In my opinion, I would like to argue, should we be?

If we can form a more holistic data pool, not just in insurance, wouldn’t it be easier to perform different analyses and not have to fill in holes? Would it further research faster? Probably.


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