IBM Watson Health and FDA Join to Study Secure Exchange of Health Care Data

The initiative aims to leverage blockchain technology to improve public health

IBM Watson Health and the FDA have launched a research initiative aimed at defining a secure, efficient, and scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology. IBM and the FDA will explore the exchange of owner-mediated data from several sources, such as electronic medical records, clinical trials, genomic data, and health data from mobile devices, wearables, and the “Internet of Things.” The initial focus will be on oncology-related data.

Transformative health care solutions are possible when health care researchers and providers have access to a 360-degree view of patient data. Today, patients have little access to their health data and cannot easily share it with researchers or providers. Giving patients the opportunity to share their data securely, for research purposes or across their health care providers, creates opportunities for major advancements in health care. Blockchain technology, which enables organizations to work together with more trust, is designed to help make this a reality.

By keeping an audit trail of all transactions on an unalterable distributed ledger, blockchain technology establishes accountability and transparency in the data exchange process. 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.

IBM and the FDA will explore how a blockchain framework can potentially provide benefits to public health by supporting important use cases for information exchange across a wide variety of data types, including clinical trials and “real-world” evidence data. New insights combining data across the health care ecosystem can 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 will also address new ways to leverage the large volumes of diverse data in today’s biomedical and health care industries. A secure owner-mediated data-sharing ecosystem could potentially hold the promise of new discoveries and improved public health.

“The health care industry is undergoing significant changes due to the vast amounts of disparate data being generated. Blockchain technology provides a highly secure, decentralized framework for data sharing that will accelerate innovation throughout the industry,” said Shahram Ebadollahi, Vice President for Innovations and Chief Science Officer for IBM Watson Health.

The initiative with the FDA is a two-year agreement. IBM Watson Health and the FDA plan to share initial research findings in 2017.

Source: IBM Watson Health; January 11, 2017.