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Bringing blockchain to healthcare for a new view on data

human body and data

In a complex health system, seamless transitions in care are dependent upon, and often hindered by, the ability to access and share patient data.

In a new proof of concept at Canada’s University Health Network (UHN), blockchain is helping create a new model in which authorized users can rapidly unlock health data through secure and transparent technologies managed and controlled by patients themselves, creating a system based on individual consent.

This new approach to health data management opens up opportunities to harness the power of data in a more timely and efficient way among patients, providers and other stakeholders within Canada’s healthcare system.

Right now, even the sharing of data for care interactions can be challenging. A patient’s health information spreads across many silos in the health system, each with their own data protection and access policies, which are not interoperable.

“Unlocking data holds the promise for great discovery and could change the landscape of care and research globally.”

Shining a light on data

To get this critical information, it becomes incredibly complex and time consuming not only for the patient but also for care providers required to send a request to each of the individual health silos where their data resides. In addition, the patient often has limited transparency and visibility into all of their health data, as well as who is accessing their data and why.

There is no centralized location or entity that can efficiently manage consent directives from multiple decentralized sources, which can rapidly change or evolve over time. Unlocking data holds the promise for great discovery and could change the landscape of care and research globally.

In partnership with IBM and eHealth Ontario, and in association with the Blockchain Research Institute, the Patient Control and Consent Blockchain initiative puts the needs of patients first by taking bold steps to overcome the challenges of fragmented health data that lives across public and private health sectors.

Through broad stakeholder engagement and working together with a team of patients, care providers and health system operators, initial efforts focused on the release of data for research purposes to enable discovery that will ultimately improve health outcomes and quality of life.

This is only the beginning, and these mechanisms for patient control of their own data have much broader implications, including:

1. Unlocking the ability to share health records with a family member or other trusted third party

2. Donating your data to research

3. Identifying trends for public health improvement

“Through blockchain, patients can seamlessly grant consent to caregivers and authorized researchers, while revoking permissions for those that no longer need their data.”

New opportunities to harness data

A private-permissioned, blockchain-based system offers new opportunities to harness the power of data. Because consent directives stored on the blockchain are immutable, patients can trust that their intentions are accurately and consistently transmitted across the health ecosystem.

Because the system is digital and updated in real time, patients can seamlessly grant consent to caregivers and authorized researchers, while revoking permissions for those that no longer need their data.

Notably, only the consent directive – no personal health information – is actually stored on the blockchain.

The Patient Control and Consent Blockchain offers the opportunity for a quantum leap forward and was recently recognized with an Enterprise Blockchain Transformation Award at the Blockchain Revolution Global conference in Toronto.

The award recognizes UHN’s and its partners’ commitment to using blockchain technology to transform the healthcare industry while also recognizing the tangible and long-term impact the organization is trying to achieve through its commitment to drive innovation forward.

The article first appeared on the IBM THINK blog and was republished with permission.

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