Intended for healthcare professionals


Bitcoin technology could take a bite out of NHS data problem

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 08 May 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k1996
  1. Stephen Armstrong, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. stephen.armstrong{at}

Blockchain recording of digital transactions could have many healthcare applications—from patient records to tracing pills—reports Stephen Armstrong, but is its potential overhyped?

The cryptocurrency boom may be over, according to recent reports,1 but interest in its underlying technology, the blockchain, is far from it. Digital health experts are starting to wonder if blockchain could solve NHS data problems, and the UK’s first trial of blockchain technology to create and support electronic health records will begin in July at a southwest London general practice group (box 1).8

Box 1

Blockchain examples in health

Countering counterfeits

“The blockchain provides a granular trail of a product’s journey,” explains Peter Bryant, chief operating officer of UK based global drug tracking system FarmaTrust. With the Drug Supply Chain Security Act in the US rolling out between 2015 and 2023,2 and the equivalent Falsified Medicines Directive in the EU coming into force next spring,3 all pharmaceutical products will require a label with a unique serial number, name, lot number, batch number, and expiry date. FarmaTrust is talking to 13 manufacturers as well as the Mongolian government to offer a blockchain tracking system that can link with existing databases. The company is also working with medicinal poppy and marijuana growers and the government in Thailand to ensure that products are traceable and the farmers are taxed on profits.

Patient records

Technology company Medicalchain is partnering with southwest London general practice group, The Groves, in the UK’s first trial of blockchain to create and support electronic health records.4 It offers registered patients a free digital wallet to hold and manage access to their health records. The platform includes a cryptocurrency—Medicalchain’s MedTokens—to encourage patients to participate, which they can use as private patients to pay for telemedicine services.

Elsewhere, MIT research project MedRec is trialling a health records system that leaves patient …

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