IBM Watson Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration want to put blockchain technology on the map in healthcare.
IBM, developer of Watson, a supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence and advanced analytical software in a format that turns a computer into a “question and answer” machine, has agreed to work with the FDA to see if blockchain technology can help overcome the barriers that have prevented universal sharing of secure information—primarily electronic medical records—across the U.S. healthcare system, IBM says.
Blockchain technology creates a shared digital “ledger” for recording the exchange of secure data between users, says IBM. The Bitcoin payment system is an example of blockchain technology.
IBM and the FDA will explore the exchange of data from several healthcare sources, such as electronic medical records, clinical trials, genomic data as well as health data from mobile devices, wearables and the Internet of Things. The initial focus of IBM and the FDA will be on oncology-related data, although details including a development timetable have yet to be released.
The initiative with the FDA is a two-year agreement and IBM Watson Health and the FDA plan to share initial research findings sometime this year, IBM says.
IBM and the FDA will explore how a blockchain framework can provide benefits to health data sharing by supporting important use cases for information exchange across a wide variety of data types, including clinical trials and “real world” evidence data, IBM says. The company says, for example, patient data from wearables and connected devices can help doctors and caregivers better manage “population health,” by collecting data from all of a patient’s healthcare providers to improve results and reduce costs.
“Today, patients have little access to their health data and cannot easily share with researchers or providers. Giving patients the opportunity to share their data securely, for research purposes or across their healthcare providers, creates opportunities for major advancements in healthcare,” says IBM Watson Health vice president for innovations and chief science officer Shahram Ebadollahi. “Blockchain technology, which enables organizations to work together with more trust, is designed to help make this a reality.”
Healthcare executives are interested in blockchain technology. Although it has yet to make public any big initiatives health insurer Humana Inc. sees potential in using blockchain technology for sharing more universal health data. “Blockchain allows for interoperability at a new level for healthcare,” Humana president and CEO Bruce Broussard told attendees at the Distributed: Health conference in October in Nashville. “Competitors can start working together for the consumer because the promise of blockchain is about putting the consumer at the center of health care, instead of the other way around.”