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IBM Watson Health to Study Blockchain for Secure Exchange of Healthcare Data

By Ken Briodagh January 11, 2017

IBM Watson Health, according to a recent announcement, has signed a research initiative with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) aimed at defining a secure, efficient and scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology.

IBM and the FDA 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 “Internet of Things.” The initial focus will be on oncology-related 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, the partnership has said. This project will determine if blockchain technology, which enables organizations to work together with more trust, can 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 Institute for Business Value paper 'Healthcare rallies for blockchains1,' based on a survey of about 200 healthcare executives, found that more than seven in 10 industry leaders anticipate the highest benefits of blockchain in healthcare to accrue to managing clinical trial records, regulatory compliance and medical/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. New insights combining data across the healthcare ecosystem can potentially lead to new biomedical discoveries. Patient data from wearables and connected devices, for example, can help doctors and caregivers better manage population health.  

The collaboration will also address new 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 new discoveries and improved public health.

As the promise of blockchain in healthcare becomes increasingly evident, IBM will work to define and build the technological solution for a scalable and decentralized data sharing ecosystem.

“The healthcare industry is undergoing significant changes due to the vast amounts of disparate data being generated. Blockchain technology provides a highly secure, decentralized framework for data sharing that will accelerate innovation throughout the industry,” said Shahram Ebadollahi, VP, Innovations and Chief Science Officer, IBM Watson Health.

The initiative with the FDA is a two-year agreement. IBM Watson Health and the FDA plan to share initial research findings in 2017.




Edited by Alicia Young

Editorial Director

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