Is Blockchain Technology Suitable for Managing Personal Health Records? Mixed-Methods Study to Test Feasibility

J Med Internet Res. 2019 Feb 8;21(2):e12533. doi: 10.2196/12533.


Background: There are many perspectives on the advantages of introducing blockchain in the medical field, but there are no published feasibility studies regarding the storage, propagation, and management of personal health records (PHRs) using blockchain technology.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate the usefulness of blockchains in the medical field in relation to transactions with and propagation of PHRs in a private blockchain.

Methods: We constructed a private blockchain network using Ethereum version 1.8.4 and conducted verification using the de-identified PHRs of 300 patients. The private blockchain network consisted of one hospital node and 300 patient nodes. In order to verify the effectiveness of blockchain-based PHR management, PHRs at a time were loaded in a transaction between the hospital and patient nodes and propagated to the whole network. We obtained and analyzed the time and gas required for data transaction and propagation on the blockchain network. For reproducibility, these processes were repeated 100 times.

Results: Of 300 patient records, 74 (24.7%) were not loaded in the private blockchain due to the data block size of the transaction block. The remaining 226 individual health records were classified into groups A (80 patients with outpatient visit data less than 1 year old), B (84 patients with outpatient data from between 1 and 3 years before data collection), and C (62 patients with outpatient data 3 to 5 years old). With respect to mean transaction time in the blockchain, C (128.7 seconds) had the shortest time, followed by A (132.2 seconds) and then B (159.0 seconds). The mean propagation times for groups A, B, and C were 1494.2 seconds, 2138.9 seconds, and 4111.4 seconds, respectively; mean file sizes were 5.6 KB, 18.6 KB, and 45.38 KB, respectively. The mean gas consumption values were 1,900,767; 4,224,341; and 4,112,784 for groups A, B, and C, respectively.

Conclusions: This study confirms that it is possible to exchange PHR data in a private blockchain network. However, to develop a blockchain-based PHR platform that can be used in practice, many improvements are required, including reductions in data size, improved personal information protection, and reduced operating costs.

Keywords: Ethereum; blockchain; mobile health; personal health record.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Computer Security / trends*
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Health Records, Personal / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Telemedicine / methods*