Technology in HHS


Blockchain in HHS: From mysterious origins to a powerful case management tool

By Ritu Raj

June 03, 2021

In this month-long series, titled Technology in HHS, we take a deep-dive into some important and innovative ways emerging technology can be harnessed in the Health and Human Services space. This week, we look at the use of blockchain in mission-critical work for HHS.

Suppose you visit the doctor’s office one day and everything is proceeding smoothly. You walk through the clean, tiled hallways and the doctor warmly invites you into the office, but as soon as you walk in, your eyes are glued to the array of old, largely defunct, tools straight from a century ago. This would be alarming, to say the least. Before we walk into any office that we trust with our health or the health of our loved ones, there is an implicit expectation that they are using the newest, safest, and most secure methods to handle the new demands of modern living.

If we have this expectation, why should we tolerate old and antiquated information networks in our most trusted agencies?

Legacy tech in modern agencies

It is no secret that this happens daily. According to The Hill, there have been instances where government agencies have been caught using a largely outdated coding system from the 1950s, still holding on to data in the form of floppy disks, and unsupported software that is no longer maintained by vendors.

Even the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service are using old technology to track and report severe weather to the public -- based on everyday experience with weather reporting, there is no surprise here.

With the recent demands of the COVID-19 pandemic requiring a robust IT infrastructure, it is shocking to find that some federal agencies were hindered by their legacy technology. For example, if you are still waiting on your federal tax returns, the IRS said they were held back during their remote work because of their 60-year-old system that is responsible for processing tax returns.

All in all, there are estimates that federal agencies are wasting billions of dollars in trying to upkeep old technology.

Not only is this inefficient, but for those agencies that are instrumental to an individual’s health or a child’s wellbeing, it can be more than disconcerting.

What is blockchain?

There are many new technologies making their rounds right now that would greatly benefit state agencies. One of these is blockchain.

First, blockchain actually has a mysterious origin story. Rather than being created by some start-up entrepreneur, its beginning is closer to that of a masked, digital crusader. Outlined under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” in the now-famous “ white paper” of Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, blockchain was intended to provide a decentralized and secure infrastructure or digital currency.

Now, far away from its anonymous origins, blockchain has been widely adopted and applied to different uses for its innovative features.

How blockchain can help

These factors alone make blockchain technology particularly suitable for state and federal agencies. In fact, Health and Human Services have already begun piloting a proof of concept project with blockchain.

Early results from the project show that blockchain is already improving security. As most federal agencies are required to track and report log files according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program, these logs can sometimes be overwritten, or simply lost in the business of everyday work. The blockchain project can make all these logs available to all necessary users of the network while also making it impossible to remove or delete them.

The future of blockchain in case management

The potential for blockchain is immense. Particularly within HHS, such as in cases of child welfare, blockchain can streamline case management. In using all the elements that build a profile and outline the case, a “smart contract” can be established that can standardize the creation and completion of case files.

Additionally, the nature of blockchain to have each file or log be a long chain of records automatically builds a chronological element into the case. Now, all the steps and records that have been completed over time, including all changes and additions, can be evaluated as part of the performance and progress of a case.

If it is unsettling to see old information technology from the last century being used in crucial agencies, it is time to move forward.

This is why Cardinality is currently working to make blockchain technology available as an option in our case management platforms for HHS agencies. Speak to us to know more.