Healthcare Industry Insights

Blockchain in Healthcare: IBM at ONC/NIST Blockchain Challenge Workshop

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Lately there has been a great deal of buzz about Blockchain and its potential uses in various sectors of the economy. Healthcare has been one of the industries that is well-suited to the integration of Blockchain because of the need for strong non-repudiation, clear audit path, and other features that Blockchain offers.

ibm_blockchain_1920hd-minThe application of Blockchain technology to healthcare took a major step forward recently at a two day workshop at the end of September (Use of Blockchain in Healthcare and Research Workshop) co-chaired by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Health Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) in Washington, D.C. The sessions were attended by almost two hundred people representing government, industry, and academia. The workshop mainly focused on winning papers from a recent Blockchain challenge, sponsored by the two agencies.

IBM was one of the winners of the challenge, with our paper Blockchain: The Chain of Trust and its Potential to Transform Healthcare – Our Point of View. This paper was presented at the workshop by IBM’s Srini Attili, Vice President & Partner, Application Innovation Consulting, US Public Sector & Healthcare and Shahram Ebadollahi, Vice President, Innovations & Chief Science Officer, IBM Watson Health. The major points of the paper are:

  1. Blockchain facilitates trust and validates identity without intermediate third parties, enabling an Internet of Value.
  2. In healthcare, new research is seeking to apply Blockchain’s distributed ledger and decentralized database solutions to the critical issues of interoperability, security, record universality, and more.
  3. Like every technology, Blockchain has limitations and is not suited for application to all scenarios. It is not well suited for high performance (millisecond) transactions involving just one participant with no business network involved, or for replicated database replacement. It is also not useful as a transaction-processing replacement nor for low-value, high-volume transactions.

However, as described in the paper, there are many applications where Blockchain has a lot of potential to create great value including: Pre-authorization for health services, counterfeit drug prevention and detection, and clinical trials results. A link to IBM’s paper can be found here.

In addition to the IBM presentation, the workshop highlighted a number of innovative Blockchain technologies and other potential use cases. Here is a link to all of the workshop presentations and challenge papers.  

It is impossible to provide a succinct summary of the workshop but there were several major themes:

  1. Blockchain has a lot of potential to create major change in healthcare.
  2. The work on use cases in healthcare is very early.
  3. Multiple technologies will be part of the overall solutions, depending the use case and the community being served.
  4. Today, a large part of the challenge is to bring awareness of Blockchain and its possible uses to the larger healthcare community. Many still have not heard of Blockchain or have only a vague idea of what the technology is.

ONC and NIST look at the effort as a public-private partnership and will be following up to continue the education and movement forward. IBM fully supports the efforts of ONC and NIST to explore and promote the vast potential of Blockchain to create major changes in the healthcare industry. We invite you to work with us, ONC, NIST, public and private entities, and academia to bring the promise to fruition. 

Additional information on IBM’s work in Blockchain can be found at

Chief Health Information Officer, IBM Global Healthcare Industry

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