FDA, IBM Watson to Explore Blockchain for Patient Data Exchange

Jan. 12, 2017
IBM Watson Health is collaborating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a research initiative aimed at defining a secure, efficient and scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology.

IBM Watson Health is collaborating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a research initiative aimed at defining a secure, efficient and scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology.

IBM, a founding member and key contributor to the Linux Foundation's Hyperledger project, 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, according to an IBM press release.

Blockchain technology is best known for its connection to the cryptocurrency bitcoin, and many healthcare stakeholders have touted the potential for blockchain technology in the healthcare space. By keeping an audit trail of all transactions on an unalterable distributed ledger, blockchain technology establishes accountability and transparency in the data exchange process, IBM officials stated in the press release. 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 ten 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,” IBM officials stated in the press release.

"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," Shahram Ebadollahi, vice president for innovations and chief science officer, IBM Watson Health, said in a statement.

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

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