You may have heard the digital-tech term “blockchain” lately – but chances are, you’re not quite sure what it is. The hype is everywhere, with headlines like NPR’s “Blockchain Could Be a Force for Good, But First You Have To Understand It,” and McKinsey’s “How Blockchains Could Change the World.” But what IS blockchain – and why should you care? We’re here to boil it down for you.

What is blockchain?
It’s often mentioned in the context of shady online transactions, but there’s nothing inherently shady about blockchain technology. It is, simply put, a way of recording information by packing data into little “blocks,” then encrypting each new block and “chaining” it to the block before it.

Why is that good?
This makes it possible for the owner of information to store it online and be confident that it’s not only secure from outside hackers, but also from any “big boss” overseeing all of the information.

Why is blockchain “hacker-proof”?
Because a hacker would need not only to decrypt your block, but all of the others that have been added to the chain – a monumental task that, at least for now, is impossible.

Why is blockchain safe from central entities?
This isn’t like putting information into Apple’s iCloud, on an Amazon Cloud server, or trusting your credit card company (which, nonetheless, are all fairly secure). Millions of computers globally sync and store blockchain information – it’s called a “distributed ledger” – but there is no single controlling entity, corporation or individual who could access your data, allow others to access it, or be hacked itself.

Why is this important?
There are many applications for blockchain technology. The information you’re storing could be a financial transaction. It could be a property deed. It could be your medical records. It could be the data on your investigational compound. Virtually any digital data can be stored and encrypted safely using blockchain technology.

Where is blockchain today?
IBM says that 15% of banks worldwide plan to implement blockchain this year. Real-estate experts say that blockchain could remove the expensive, time-consuming middlemen who currently maintain that part of the process.

How will blockchain affect healthcare?
In healthcare, there are opportunities for blockchain from discovery, to manufacturing, to wholesaling, to patient records, to personal care. From the research bench to the manufacturing floor to the medicine cabinet, there are myriad concerns about keeping data secure, yet able to be synthesized usefully.

How will blockchain affect pharma marketing?
Imagine you’re a patient who uses an app to help manage your disease. You log your meals, exercise, your dosages and your numbers. That data is seamlessly integrated with your health records, and you’ve given certain physicians permission to view certain information. If you change doctors, no problem – you own your data and the access to it.

Today, we’re hampered because the data lives in siloes – and most patients would hesitate to give any single entity all of that personal health information, even if it were possible. But if health data were stored using blockchain technology, patients could truly own their own data and the ability to adjust access to it. We could offer patients tools that could do all this and more.

Now what?
This post is the “Little Golden Book” version of blockchain technology – very simple and just a beginning! But if this has whetted your appetite, here are a few additional reads: