If you're a recent transplant to Atlanta with medical records from another state, you may have had to deal with filling out lengthy medical history forms at the doctor's office.
One Atlanta health care technology startup, Patientory, wants to make it easier for patients to access and share their electronic medical records using technology known as blockchain, which is behind the digital currency Bitcoin.
Currently, many hospitals may keep things on one central server. With blockchain technology, data is cut up and distributed all over the world on multiple servers.
"Blockchain is distributed over multiple networks so the information doesn't just sit in one location, so it’s not easily accessed by data thieves,” said Patientory CEO Chrissa McFarlane. “It's based off of cryptography and it uses complex algorithms to distribute information over a wide range of locations so it's really impossible to breach.”
At the moment, there's only one country in the world where nearly all health records are stored electronically using blockchain technology: Estonia.
Estonia has been using this technology since early 2016 and McFarlane said she wants to duplicate this in the U.S.
"I think 2016 was really the year we introduced blockchain in health care,” McFarlane said. “To tell you the truth, I don't know why it took this long."
Patientory is in beta mode, but ultimately wants to help hospitals move away from fax machines, which is an industry standard for secure communications.
McFarlane said Patientory uses a technology that would make patient portals and databases compatible so patients can securely share and transfer data that works across different hospital systems. It would also use artificial intelligence to provide doctors with templated care plans they can customize for their patients based on diagnoses and symptoms.
Attorney Roy Hadley said he’s seen how companies in Atlanta are starting to use blockchain technology beyond the financial services industry and the virtual money known as Bitcoin.
"Blockchain is becoming the hot new thing for sharing, transferring and securing data,” Hadley said. “It’s going to be incumbent on us to keep an open mind around these technologies and embrace them as they come into the marketplace.”
Hadley leads the cybersecurity and privacy practice at Thompson Hine and is chair of the information security society for the Technology Association of Georgia.
He helps companies make sure they're compliant with the federal patient data rules known as HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.
He said there’s some debate around whether or not blockchain technology as well as other encryption methods are HIPAA compliant because they’re based on mathematical models, which HIPAA prohibits.
“What you’re going to have to see is regulators better understanding these relatively new technologies and then evolve the regulations themselves,” Hadley said. “Because if it’s not blockchain, it’s going to be something else later down the road.”
Jason Cronk, one of the organizers of the 2015 Atlanta Bitcoin Consumer Fair, is president of Microdesic, a company that makes Bitcoins available when there’s no steady internet connection. He said there’s a lot of hype around blockchain, which helps keep track of small pieces of information often stored on third-party database servers.
“Just because you do something on the blockchain doesn't make it instantly better,” Cronk said. “The problem is blockchain is not good for storing large amounts of data. You don’t actually need the patient records on the blockchain.”
Cronk said that blockchain could store small pieces of information like digital signatures of patient records to ensure that those signatures and the data are not altered. Another advantage is access to a full log of who accessed the information and when.
But Hadley, who represents health care and cybersecurity companies in Atlanta when they experience data breaches, said that while there might be fewer cyberattacks on hospitals, hackers could shift their attention to blockchain-based information record systems.
“Bitcoin has had its ups and downs over time. Some of the Bitcoin exchanges have been breached and it’s not clear if it’s the bitcoin itself or underlying blocking technology that’s been compromised,” Hadley said. "Once you start to see these medical records exchanges come online then you're going to see more and more attacks on them, because that's where the data is."
McFarlane said that’s why her company has several layers of encryption to deter hackers.
Patientory is currently working with Kaiser Permanente-Colorado Permanente Medical Group and StartUp Health at three hospitals in Georgia and Colorado.