Google Inc- owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies Ltd. has provided more details on its deal with Britain’s National Health Service to digitize healthcare records, including the development of a blockchain-like tool to address privacy concerns.
Called “Verifiable Data Audit,” the new tool will allow hospitals, and potentially even patients, to see exactly who is using healthcare records by recording any changes or access to patient records. The tool is a described as being “blockchain-like” in that it uses a digital ledger that shares strong similarities to the blockchain but with some differences.
Like blockchain, the audit digital ledger will be append-only, so once a record of data use is added, it can’t later be erased. And like blockchain, the ledger will make it possible for third parties to verify that nobody has tampered with any of the entries. However, the ledger will not be decentralized like a traditional blockchain “because we already have trusted institutions like hospitals or national bodies who can be relied on to verify the integrity of ledgers,” the company wrote in a blog post.
Another interesting difference is that the digital ledger used for the tool will store records in a “tree-like” structure rather than a chain, but the entries on the ledger will still generate a cryptographic hash to both track the footprint of the data and to make it unchangeable.
While sounding good on paper, the implementation of the blockchain-like audit tool is still facing challenges. DeepMind noted that it had to ensure that there were no blind spots in the system, that it could be used to answer the needs of different groups, and that it could make sure the log is complete. given different systems across the NHS network being used to store the data.
The announcement has been met mostly positively. Nicola Perrin, the head of a medical research body in the U.K., told The Guardian that “there are a lot of calls for a robust audit trail to be able to track exactly what happens to personal data, and particularly to be able to check how data is used once it leaves a hospital or NHSDigital. DeepMind [is] suggesting using technology to help deliver that audit trail, in a way that should be much more secure than anything we have seen before. I think [this] will form an important part of developing trustworthy systems that give people more confidence about how data is used.”