Former Utah Governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt at HIMSS17 in Orlando on Tuesday.

IBM Watson, FDA align to boost public health with blockchain

The organizations aim to advance the secure exchange of health information and will start by focusing on data related to oncology.
By Bernie Monegain
08:01 AM
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IBM Watson Health chief science officer Shahram Ebadollahi said the entities will build on Blockchain's decentralized framework for sharing health information. 

IBM Watson Health and the FDA announced on Wednesday that they would work together on an initiative to create a secure, efficient and scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology.

The technology giant and the federal agency will explore the exchange of data from sources, such as EMRs, clinical trials, genomics and health information from mobile devices, wearables and the Internet of Things.

With an initial focus on oncology-related data, IBM and FDA said they intend to share initial research findings in 2017 under the two-year agreement. 

[Also: Top 10 health technology advances for 2017, according to ECRI]

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

Transformative healthcare solutions are possible when healthcare researchers and providers have access to a 360-degree view of patient data, he added. Yet patients today have little access to their health data and cannot easily share with researchers or providers. Giving patients the ability to do just that, for research purposes or across their healthcare providers, can create opportunities for advancements in healthcare. Blockchain technology, which enables organizations to work together with more trust, is designed to help make this a reality.

Also, by keeping an audit trail of all transactions on an unalterable distributed ledger, blockchain technology establishes accountability and transparency in the data exchange process, Ebadollahi said. 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 blockchains’, 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 when managing clinical trial records, regulatory compliance and medical/health records.

[Also: Health data: A beast best tamed by machine learning?]

IBM and the FDA will explore how a blockchain framework can potentially provide benefits to public health by supporting use cases for information exchange across a wide variety of data types, including clinical trials and “real world” evidence data. Researchers figure new insights combining data across the healthcare ecosystem could 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 between IBM and FDA will also address new ways to leverage the large volumes of diverse data in 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 executives said they will also work to define and build the technological solution for a scalable and decentralized data sharing ecosystem. 

Twitter: @Bernie_HITN
Email the writer: bernie.monegain@himssmedia.com


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