The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is testing blockchain projects to track and control the spread of infectious diseases through better data sharing. According to an article in MIT Technology Review, the government agency is working on proofs of concept for "better public health surveillance." In simple words, this means that the agency could use the technology to track public health crises, such as the recent opioid crisis, or to share data efficiently during the spread of infectious diseases.

Jim Nasr, the project's chief software architect, said that blockchain's peer-to-peer model could speed up data sharing regarding patient specifics and response times. This is because public health organizations operate in data silos due to differing systems and government regulations. Currently, public health workers use an app to enter patient data and medication. But cloud technology presents its own set of security risks. Blockchain's decentralized network could enable storing and transferring these records in a compliant and transparent manner. (See also: How Blockchain Is Changing the Real Estate Industry.)

A report by consultancy firm Deloitte provides additional context regarding blockchain's applicability to the healthcare ecosystem. It proposes combining multiple "disjointed" systems of patient records into a single nationwide blockchain transaction layer that contains standardized patient information. (See also: Trump Administration Reiterates Support for Blockchain Technology.)

Before such a system comes to a pass, it is necessary to overcome several bottlenecks. For one, the attributes of standardized patient medical data need to be defined. Second, care needs to be taken that privacy considerations and regulations, as they relate to patient data, are enforced in such a system. Finally, organizations and healthcare providers will have to be offered incentives to share patient data with each other and government agencies.

The MIT Review article defines some of these constraints within the CDC's context. For example, defining ownership for a ledger containing these records is critical. Similarly, patient IDs will need to be encrypted to ensure security. (See also: How Blockchain Technology Can Prevent Voter Fraud.)

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.