Hippocrat's goal is to promote self-sovereignty and global collaboration among a broad range of stakeholders including patients, healthcare organizations, and entities utilizing data, without the need for third-party trust. This involves ensuring reliable records and verification methods for data, assets, and their history from creation to distribution. Blockchain and crypto technologies are ideally suited to fulfill these needs. We will delve into this in more detail, discussing the specific technologies used by Hippocrat.
Bitcoin: Establishing Trust in Records
Blockchain is a trust technology, specifically an alternative to relying on an organization and its servers. Conventional methods that don't utilize blockchain technology struggle to prevent inadvertent damage or intentional tampering with records stored on servers from within. Furthermore, instances of unfair practices resulting from malicious hacking attacks by outsiders are not uncommon.
Blockchains essentially eliminate the possibility of record forgery or alteration by storing identical records on an indeterminate number of computers, allowing anyone to view the record without needing permission. In the case of Bitcoin, widely recognized as the most decentralized and secure, the computers playing this role are known as "full nodes," with over 17,500 of them globally as of March 2023. This ensures that unless all these full nodes are obliterated, records are never lost and can be restored. Additionally, to alter records maliciously, you'd need to control the majority of the processing power of the Bitcoin network's mining nodes, an implausible scenario even with all the world's supercomputers. Even if such an attack succeeded, it could only tamper with a single record at the time of the attack, not all of the accumulated records. The cost-benefit analysis of such an attack makes it unfeasible. If one wished to tamper with all prior records, they would have to bear the energy costs for each attack, underscoring why energy-using blockchains are so secure.
There are also rapidly advancing technologies that build on the unique decentralization and security of Bitcoin, such as decentralized identity and credentialing (ION), microtransfers and payments (Lightning Network), asset issuance (Taro), and a broader range of smart contracts (Liquid Network, RGB, etc.).
Hippocrat seeks to employ these technologies to manage records of a person's valuable medical data on the most secure and trustworthy blockchain, using both bitcoin and Hippocrat's unique asset, HPO.
Hash: ensuring the integrity of medical data
A common misconception is that blockchains store medical data directly. However, blockchains inherently cannot hold large amounts of data as it's costly to maintain multiple copies of the same data. Therefore, they are most effectively used for storing minimal but critical information such as assets or identities, which require a trustworthy repository.
This concept is easier to understand when we consider records kept in a real estate registry. In such a registry, there's a current and historical record of property ownership. The ownership can be modified by altering the record in the registry, without physically exchanging the property. Similarly, Hippocrat uses blockchain to document the transaction history of medical data, including ownership, the type of medical information it holds, who created it, its physical location, and with whom it's shared.
One might presume that since the actual data content isn't on the blockchain, it would be vulnerable to tampering or alterations outside the blockchain. This is where a cryptographic technique called a "hash function" comes into play. Hash functions are unique in that even a slight change in the input data results in a dramatically different output (hash value). For instance, if I input an original file that gives a hash value of 57 and store it on the blockchain, and the received data has a hash value of 58, which is different from the one recorded on the blockchain, I can be confident that the original file has been modified. Even a single character change in the original data, or a single space added, can result in a vastly different hash value.
Thus, without storing the actual data on the blockchain, we can verify the integrity of the original data and carry out transactions securely.