Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

IBM looks to blockchain for secure health data exchange

Steve Rogerson
January 31, 2017
IBM is collaborating with the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to study the use of blockchain technology for the secure exchange of healthcare data.
IBM Watson Health has signed a research initiative with the FDA aimed at defining a secure, efficient and scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology. The two bodies will explore the exchange of owner mediated data from several sources, such as electronic medical records, clinical trials, genomic data, and health data from mobile devices, wearables and the IoT. The initial focus will be on oncology-related data.
Transformative healthcare is possible when healthcare researchers and providers have access to a 360-degree view of patient data. Today, patients have little access to their health data and cannot easily share with researchers or providers. Giving patients the opportunity to share their data securely, for research purposes or across their healthcare providers, creates opportunities for major advancements in healthcare.
Blockchain technology, which lets organisations work together with more trust, is designed to help make this a reality.
By keeping an audit trail of all transactions on an unalterable distributed ledger, blockchain technology establishes accountability and transparency in the data exchange process. In the past, large scale sharing of health data has been limited by concerns of data security and breaches of patient privacy during the data exchange process.
A recent IBM paper based on a survey of about 200 healthcare executives found that more than seven in ten industry leaders anticipate the highest benefits of blockchain in healthcare to accrue to managing clinical trial records, regulatory compliance, and medical and health records.
IBM and the FDA will explore how a blockchain framework can potentially provide benefits to public health by supporting important use cases for information exchange across a wide variety of data types, including clinical trials and real-world evidence data. Insights combining data across the healthcare ecosystem can potentially lead to new biomedical discoveries. Patient data from wearables and connected devices, for example, could help doctors and caregivers better manage population health.
The collaboration will also address ways to leverage the large volumes of diverse data in today's biomedical and healthcare industries. A secure owner-mediated data sharing ecosystem could potentially hold the promise of discoveries and improved public health.
IBM brings expertise in blockchain technology, for example, IBM is founding member and key contributor to the Linux Foundation's Hyperledger project.
As the promise of blockchain in healthcare becomes increasingly evident, IBM will work to define and build the technology for a scalable and decentralised data sharing ecosystem.
"The healthcare industry is undergoing significant changes due to the vast amounts of disparate data being generated," said Shahram Ebadollahi, chief science officer at IBM Watson Health. “Blockchain technology provides a highly secure, decentralised framework for data sharing that will accelerate innovation throughout the industry.”
The initiative with the FDA is a two-year agreement. IBM Watson Health and the FDA plan to share initial research findings later this year.