Blockchain technology hasn’t taken over the world yet, but IBM Corp. thinks it might be key to delivering more secure, efficient, and effective medical service.

The company announced recently that its IBM Watson Health division had signed a research initiative with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to research, develop, and test ways to apply blockchain technology to multiple facets of public health care, including medical records, clinical trials, genomic data, and health data from mobile devices, wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT).

“The healthcare industry is undergoing significant changes due to the vast amounts of disparate data being generated,” IBM Watson Health vice president for innovations and chief science officer Shahram Ebadollahi said in a Jan. 11 press release. “Blockchain technology provides a highly secure, decentralized framework for data sharing that will accelerate innovation throughout the industry.”

According to IBM, the research initiative team’s first project will be using blockchain technology to define a “secure, efficient and scalable” exchange of oncology-related health data.

The initiative makes intuitive sense: Blockchains are decentralized, distributed databases that record, validate, and organize the information generated as user activities are recorded online. Because it lacks a central hub, the blockchain is seen as more secure than traditional data servers, making it the perfect platform to address both the present lack of data sharing between hospitals (a problem Canadian patients face as well) and incorporate the data generated by the recent explosion of data-gathering wearable devices aimed at fitness buffs.

“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 said in its Jan. 11 release. “Transformative healthcare solutions are possible when healthcare researchers and providers have access to a 360-degree view of patient data.”

The release also included a statement from IDC government and health insights group vice president and general manager Scott Lundstrom, who noted that blockchain technology would provide hospitals and patients alike with a secure, decentralized platform ideal for the controlled sharing of health information.

“Blockchain is a natural solution to e-pedigree and supply chain and product integrity challenges faced by pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies,” Lundstrom said. “Additional development may allow blockchain to serve as a distributed, immutable patient record that can be secured and shared to accelerate the drug discovery process.”

IBM’s initiative with the FDA is a two-year agreement, with the organizations planning to share their initial research findings later this year.



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