The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is partnering IBM to research blockchain technology applications toward the exchange of health data.
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Revealed in an announcement yesterday by IBM Watson Health, the US federal agency is looking at ways in which health data be shared from medical devices and wearables, clinical trials and data from mobile devices.
An initial focus will be dedicated to oncology-related data, the press release by IBM added. The joint-initiative will last two years until early 2019 and initial research findings are expected to be revealed this year.
In an age when wearables are becoming common alongside applications gathering health data aboard mobile phones, sharing this data to healthcare providers continues to be a hurdle in its lack of efficiency. Further, the threat of cybersecurity breaches, particularly in the healthcare sector, is a worrying concern for patients and providers alike.
IBM believes blockchain to provide the solution for seamless sharing of data in a secure way. A distributed ledger that’s ‘unalterable’ will help keep an audit trail while establishing transparency and accountability in the sharing of data, the tech giant claims.
An excerpt from the release added:
The collaboration will also address new ways to leverage the large volumes of diverse data in today’s biomedical and healthcare industries. A secure owner-mediated data sharing ecosystem could potentially hold the promise of new discoveries and improved public health.
A sweeping blockchain framework will be researched and explored for implementation in a wide range of areas where data is gathered and shared. This includes clinical trials; patient data from wearables and connected devices that could aid doctors “better manage population health” and; new insights from correlating data from the comprehensive blockchain framework that “can potentially lead to new biomedical discoveries”.
The fundamental notion of improving public health from large volumes of owner-mediated data securely from the population and potential “promise of new discoveries” are notable takeaways from the FDA’s blockchain research announcement.
An Obvious Use Case
The healthcare sector is seeing an increasing number of participants looking into blockchain technology since the turn of 2016. Tim Hogben, chief of operations at the ASX, Australia’s biggest securities exchange operator which is perhaps notably the first major securities exchange in the world to develop and implement a blockchain prototype, called for the industry to leverage the innovation. The executive offered a different blockchain solution in the industry, that of a product recall of wearable healthcare products which could be organized efficiently over a blockchain.
In mid-2016, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued a public call asking developers to theorize innovative blockchain applications for the healthcare industry. A significant response followed, of which 15 projects and ideas were handpicked by the federal department a month later.
This year, a partnership between a telecom-tech and healthcare providers in the United Arab Emirates will lead to healthcare records of patients recorded, stored and shared between hospitals on a blockchain.
Image from Shutterstock.