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Is Blockchain Ready For Radiology?

Is blockchain ready for radiology?

March 29, 2019 -- Blockchain technology could have many exciting applications in radiology and also facilitate the development of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. But key hurdles remain in the way of adoption of the technology, said Dr. Woojin Kim, who spoke on Tuesday in a webinar held by the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM).

Widely known for its role as the technology supporting cryptocurrencies, blockchain enables the creation of an immutable ledger and databases in decentralized and distributed networks. Although blockchain offers the potential to benefit radiology, many limitations and challenges first need to be overcome, according to Kim.

"As this emerging technology becomes more widely adopted and the technology improves, it will become important for the radiology professionals to be more familiar with this technology and, more importantly, understand when to use this technology and when not to," said Kim, who is chief medical information officer at Nuance Communications.

Kim said that blockchain has a number of potential radiology applications:

  • Medical records. Blockchain allows for patient-centric access and control of health data, allowing all authorized personnel to have access to information such as a contrast agent allergy, for example. Blockchain technology would give control of health records back to patients, while maintaining one uniform record that's not siloed in many different places, Kim said.

  • Image sharing and teleradiology. Similarly, blockchain could enable patients to determine who has access to their images, Kim said.

  • Claims and billing. Blockchain could be used in radiology to reduce fraud, speed up claims, and perhaps even facilitate preauthorization processes, he said.

  • Supply chain management. Blockchain could be used to track and manage products in the radiology department, as well as to store inspections and maintenance records for imaging equipment.

  • Credentialing. Blockchain could save time and money for radiologists in the currently arduous process of credentialing, according to Kim. If requested, radiologists could simply grant a hospital or medical board access to their records, including medical education history, continuing medical education (CME), and medicolegal records.

  • Research and clinical trials. Blockchain could also facilitate research and clinical trials in radiology by enabling, for example, patients to share their images with researchers.

AI And The Blockchain

In addition, Kim said that blockchain can be complementary to AI, offering potential benefit in all five steps the life cycle of an AI model:

  1. Data access

  2. Data engineering

  3. Machine-learning/deep-learning training

  4. Model deployment

  5. Model management

"By using blockchain, one can create a decentralized infrastructure in the area of data that can support artificial intelligence," Kim said.

AI models require a lot of data for training. In addition, several studies recently have shown that AI models trained using data from a single institution are brittle and don't generalize well outside of that environment.

"One potential for blockchain is using it to create an open, shared, and decentralized data layer, allowing data contributions to come from diverse sources," he said.