IBM Watson, CDC on the hunt for new blockchain apps for healthcare

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been pursuing trials to explore new ways to manage data, Big Blue is focused on blockchain's security protections.
By Mike Miliard
01:39 PM
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In what it says is an expansion of its existing federal work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, IBM Watson Health has signed on with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help explore new applications for blockchain in healthcare.

IBM Chief Science Officer Shahram Ebadollahi revealed the news this week at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York.

CDC has already been running a series of pilots aimed to explore blockchain's real-world potential, and Ebadollahi said the more participants who join in to help put it distributed ledger tools to work across the healthcare, the faster it could help tackle some of the industry's most challenging interoperability, security and other data management issues.

[Also: IBM Watson, FDA align to boost public health with blockchain]

And when combined with AI, he said, blockchain holds big promise for managing patient data over time and across various care settings.

"Blockchain is very useful when there are so many actors in the system," Ebadollahi told Fast Company. "It enables the ecosystem of data in healthcare to have more fluidity, and AI allows us to extract insights from the data. Everybody talks about big data in healthcare but I think the more important thing is long data.”

Kyu Rhee, MD, IBM's chief health officer, added that he was especially heartened by the level of security offered by blockchain technology, which was initially developed to manage cryptocurrency transactions.

"Privacy and security come first," he said. "Patients own their data, and you can’t share data with people you don’t trust."

In January, IBM and FDA signed a two-year agreement to explore potential blockchain applications for EHRs, clinical trials, internet-of-things, genomics and more.

“The healthcare industry is undergoing significant changes due to the vast amounts of disparate data being generated,” Ebadollahi, chief science officer at IBM Watson Health, said then. "Blockchain technology provides a secure decentralized framework for data sharing that will accelerate innovation throughout the industry."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com