Tech for Good: Four Ways Blockchain Can Improve People’s Lives

As the acceptance of blockchain technology grows, companies are investing in ways implement it into more and more business processes—some which are designed to save or improve lives.
Cybersecurity Month BlockchainAs the acceptance of blockchain technology grows, companies are investing in ways implement it into more and more business processes—some which are designed to save or improve lives.

Blockchain technology allows organizations, people, and companies to create an irrefutable single source of truth, according to Jim Gitney, CEO of Upland, Calif.-based Group50 and co-chair of CompTIA’s Blockchain Industry Advisory Council. In practical cases, that means goods and services can be tracked and audited across their entire supply chain history to ensure safety, authenticity and quality, he said.

“Traditionally, we just don't know what the source of something is, where it came from, how it was developed, how it was manufactured,” Gitney said.

Here are four examples noted by Gitney in which blockchain technology can be used to improve our quality of life:

Identify contaminated produce quickly

Earlier this year, an outbreak of E. coli infections linked to Romaine Lettuce hospitalized dozens of people, and grocery stores nationally dumped their inventories to prevent the outbreak from spreading — but what if they didn’t need to?

“The application of blockchain into the food supply chain allows a manufacturer to know exactly where everything they're putting into their product came from,” Gitney said.

Walmart, the one of the world's largest retailers, in partnership with IBM, has developed a food traceability system, which uses blockchain technology, to prevent the spread of food-borne disease illnesses, which account for approximately 800 hospitalizations and 20 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

By enabling Walmart to trace product origins, the system can pinpoint the products to discard — the produce from affected farms — which prevents outbreaks, protects farms and saves money.

"Instead of banning the sale of all romaine lettuce — like the state of California did last year — they can isolate it down to a very specific subset of products and be assured that everything else is left in the marketplace is safe,” Gitney said.

Create sustainable farming

To help build a sustainable future, Starbucks verifies its coffee to ensure its been ethically sourced — and the coffee giant is doing a pretty good job so far.

Since 2015, Starbucks’ coffee has been verified as 99 percent ethically sourced, but there’s a bigger goal: Starbucks’ aspiration is to make coffee the world’s first sustainably sourced agricultural product.

While there are a variety of ways Starbucks is tackling its initiative, investing in digital traceability is one component to it. Basically, the coffee giant is using blockchain to trace its coffee in real-time.

"Buying only from plantations that use sustainable practices protects the environment, so while it might not be an immediate impact, it has a long-term benefit,” Gitney said.

Improve disaster relief efforts

Late last year, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support held a two-day meeting to review the agency’s response to Hurricane Maria and recovery operations in Puerto Rico, and discuss how blockchain capabilities could’ve improved the organization’s efforts in several ways.

At the meeting, the agency noted the importance of visibility during disaster relief efforts, which isn’t always possible when processes are tracked through various systems, databases and agencies. It concluded blockchain technologies could have assisted the agency by them improving transaction processing and in-transit visibility of shipments.

“The application of blockchain for disaster relief is going to be able to monitor the complete chain of custody of goods and services from one organization to another,” Gitney said.

While this is a positive outlook for disaster relief efforts, there are still obstacles facing agencies transporting goods and services to those in need — especially when bad actors are involved.

“If you have a situation with shady organizations, shady governments or shading relief agencies inside a country where the disaster relief is guaranteed is being sent, you won't have any control over how its distributed,” Gitney said.

Enhance medical record access

In the healthcare industry, there are numerous opportunities for blockchain technologies to be implemented; however, there’s one area already gaining momentum: electronic medical records.

Massachusetts General Hospital late last year partnered with MediBloc, a Korean blockchain startup, to provide secure blockchain technologies for health information exchange.

“If I have my health records on a blockchain, I can give access to my health records to any doctor I want to,” he said. “The only people who can see them are people I give permission to view them.”

Massachusetts General Hospital’s goal isn’t to replace legacy systems with blockchain technologies; instead, it wants to supplement exiting electronic health records with MediBloc’s solutions to improve the quality of patient outcomes. 

“A doctor would immediately be able to see every medication I'm on and would immediately be able to draw conclusions about what the potential interactions are between those medications,” Gitney said.

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