CDC, IBM Watson Health To Explore Medical Blockchain Applications

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has signed an agreement with IBM Watson Health to participate in research around medical applications of blockchain technology. IBM’s chief science officer, Shahram Ebadollahi, announced the partnership on October 24, explaining that the organizations will explore “owner-mediated data exchange using blockchain,” building on the findings of IBM’s ongoing collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

While issuing the announcement, Ebadollahi touted blockchain technology’s potential to enable “the ecosystem of data in healthcare to have more fluidity,” adding that artificial intelligence could significantly contribute to the analysis of those data and potentially extract new insights from them.

IBM had signed its two-year agreement with the FDA in January 2017, committing to work toward “defining a secure, scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology.” The two groups agreed to study “the exchange of owner mediated data from several sources” with the goal of “giving patients the opportunity to share their data securely, for research purposes or across their healthcare providers.” The tech giant’s press release announcing the FDA partnership noted its hope that “new biomedical discoveries” would result from this research.

Prior to joining forces with IBM, the CDC had already stepped into the blockchain space through collaboration with the technology firm Gem aimed at enhancing the organization’s ability to respond to crises such as natural disasters.

Others in the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), of which the CDC is a part, have also expressed openness to blockchain technology. During an October 20 interview on Federal News Radio, Debbie Bucci, an IT architect with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT within the HHS, mentioned the possibility of a blockchain-based service to track the status of Medicare and Medicaid payments.