Tech headlines today herald the potential impact of blockchain technology on industries such as crowdsourcing, transportation, and inter-company collaboration (supply chains). We’re inundated today with projects targeting these markets and many people think it’s quite likely these markets will be the first to see significant disruption.
Or could blockchain’s most profound impact actually be elsewhere? Blockchain technology is, in some ways, more suited for professional service industries, ultimately reducing the reliance on costly third parties and giving the user more direct control over their choices.
There are three key reasons why this particular business sector is overlooked by popular innovators today whilst at the same time it appears ripe for disruption.
- The professional service industry sector is not as attention-grabbing as other markets, far less prone to groundbreaking headlines announcing significant Fortune 500 partnerships.
- There are inherent reservations around integrating with heavily regulated professional service industries such as healthcare or law.
- The inefficiencies within professional services – education, law, healthcare, insurance – are more subtle, known only by those working in the industry or those unfortunate enough to have had to personally encounter their frustrating shortcomings.
The sector is also, in some ways, inherently more suited for current decentralized technology because short execution times are less critical. Supply chains, artificial intelligence, payments and transactions must be fast. Every second spent is crucial, risking safety, accuracy, and the patience of users. But with professional services, the importance is less on how quickly a command can be processed and more dependent on the process being secure, transparent, and efficient. A medical record update can take 5 minutes to secure and clients and providers would be no less inconvenienced. Whereas a store clerk can’t possibly wait five minutes for a buyer’s transaction to be processed.
In any professional service industry, there are three significant overlapping areas where blockchain can be signficantly impactful. First, blockchain can address the heavy reliance on secure and efficient record keeping, both between institutions and professionals and between clients and providers. Second, blockchain can help record the many accreditations, licensing, and other professional certifications. And third, blockchain can help ensure transparency regarding the history of providers.
Any professional service provider is well acquainted with the mountains of paperwork relevant to their profession. Whether it is legal documents for lawyers, medical records for doctors, transcripts and diplomas for educational institutions, or documentation by insurers, these records must remain protected and accessible. Illegal tampering must be prevented, clients should maintain ownership and access to their records, and the proof of authenticity must be ensured, even when the document is transferred between institutions.
Today, this system is far from perfect. Blockchain makes a system possible where records retain an entire history of modification and demands that any edit is authenticated with the private key of the authority. No unauthorized person could change a medical record or transcript and there would be an immutable history of all changes. Access could be approved only by the owners and any receiving party would know that the document was authentic. Standards could be set that would allow institutions to operate on the same network, with no central trust agent, allowing for efficient record sharing. All these possibilities are supported by blockchain and would be virtually costless.
Licencing and Accreditations
Forgery of accreditations amongst professional providers remains a constant problem. Present in any doctor or lawyer’s office is a collection of board and education certifications. Clients trust that these are authentic because the hospital or firm endorses their legitimacy.
With private practice, this becomes much more difficult. Imagine that certifications and accreditations were associated with the professional, certified by the institutions, and verifiable by anyone. Automatic expiration dates would reduce the need for central oversight. They would be impossible to counterfeit and clients could rest easy knowing that the provider was honestly representing their accreditations.
Reputation and Credibility
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to view the history of providers and transparency isn’t always in their personal interest. Information about malpractice suits, court cases, and dissatisfied costumers is not easily accessed by inquisitive clients.
Blockchain would ensure that providers have an associated immutable record, tracking their professional reputation and history, guaranteeing transparency for the client. Imagine am immutable LinkedIn-like service, protecting a client’s right-to-know and ensuring that a provider is who they say they are. Acces to such records could put an end to the scrabbling around among friends and neighbours that’s usually needed to get some word of mouth recommendations from a trusted source.
A relationship between a professional provider and a client is inherently vulnerable for the client. The reason that the client is going to a professional is because they lack the same level of knowledge. This can make it challenging for some of them to understand how to effectively protect themselves and it makes them a relatively easy target for abuse by unscrupulous providers.
Complex and cumbersome systems for record keeping, record sharing, and the management of accredited certifications are intended to help protect the public and ensure that professionals have the necessary skills that they claim. Though records today can be easily manipulated, forged, obscured, and depend heavily on central entities to authenticate and manage.
Blockchain provides an excellent solution, giving clients control of their information, reducing overhead costs, and providing efficient access to only those approved parties. It is likely only a matter of time until medical, educational, and law institutions migrate to decentralized systems.
Author: Noam Levenson
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