IBM Watson and FDA to develop secure 'blockchain' patient data sharing


IBM Watson is to work with the FDA to investigate the use of blockchain technology, seen as one of the most secure ways of sharing patient data.

The technology allows each separate patient data source to be a ‘block’ part of a complete, unalterable patient data profile which can then be shared securely with healthcare providers or research organisations.

Initially focused on oncology-related data, the collaboration will look at how best to exchange data gathered from multiple owner mediated data sources such as Electronic Medical Records, clinical trials, genomic data, mobile devices, wearables, and Internet of Things technologies.

The deal aims to overcome the limitations of large scale sharing of health data seen in the past, namely data security and patient privacy concerns during the data exchange process.

This method increases transparency not only between patient and doctor, but between different healthcare providers also. The unalterable nature of the technology makes it secure by design.

The overall aim of the project is to assist research and improve public health as a result of improved shareability of patient data. For example, easily shareable wearables data could help doctors better manage population health.

“The healthcare industry is undergoing significant changes due to the vast amounts of disparate data being generated,” said said Shahram Ebadollahi, vice president for innovations and chief science officer at IBM Watson Health.

“Blockchain technology provides a highly secure, decentralised framework for data sharing that will accelerate innovation throughout the industry.”

IBM will bring plenty of experience of blockchain technology to the collaboration, being a founder and contributor to the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project - a project solely aimed at advancing blockchain technology.

In terms of population health, IBM has been busy building its reputation in the area over the past two years. In 2015, it acquired both Phytel and Explorys before forging a population health management alliance with Siemens in October last year.

IBM and the FDA plan to share initial research findings later this year.

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Marco Ricci

12 January, 2017