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IBM and FDA to collaborate on blockchain health data security

by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter | January 11, 2017
Health IT Risk Management
At a time when consumer faith in cyber security is at a low, IBM Watson Health is teaming up with the FDA to address health data's vulnerability by utlizing the technology most commonly associated with bitcoin.

"The health care industry is undergoing significant changes due to the vast amounts of disparate data being generated,” Shahram Ebadollahi, vice president for innovations and chief science officer, IBM Watson Health, said in a statement, adding, “blockchain technology provides a highly secure, decentralized framework for data sharing that will accelerate innovation throughout the industry,"

This is not only important for electronic health records. As we collectively embark on an era in which the Internet of Things include an array of wearable, mobile and stationary devices — not only used to monitor vitals or encrypt personal information but also deliver drugs — security risks are greater and more complex than ever before.

The initial focus of the initiative will be on oncology-related data and first results are expected to be made public in 2017.

Blockchain technology, devised by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, is most famously associated with bitcoin currency. Blockchains are databases that are distributed over a globally decentralized network of computers in which encrypted records (blocks) are linked and time-stamped.

Blockchains are very secure because they can't be altered once recorded.

Today it is often difficult for patients, practitioners and researchers to access all of an individuals health records, and security concerns play a large role in the problem. The hope is that with blockchains it will be possible to access a 360-degree view of patient data while maintaining security.

In a survey of 200 health care executives in the insurance and medical industries, IBM found that over 70 percent anticipate the greatest benefits of blockchain will involve managing clinical trial records, regulatory compliance and medical/health records. In addition, 16 percent said they intend to utilize commercial blockchain technology in 2017.

In the new partnership IBM and the FDA plan to set up test cases using clinical trials and "real world" evidence data.

“New insights combining data across the health care ecosystem can potentially lead to new biomedical discoveries,” they note, adding, “as the promise of blockchain in health care becomes increasingly evident, IBM will work to define and build the technological solution for a scalable and decentralized data sharing ecosystem.”

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