Healthcare Industry Insights

IBM Healthcare Wins Blockchain Health IT Ideation Challenge

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What is Blockchain and why is it the latest buzzword in Healthcare?

The famous 1993 cartoon by Peter Stein in The New Yorker sums up the trust limitation that is inherent in online commerce: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” 23 years later, the world is still working to overcome this limitation with a commerce-ready method of validating identity and establishing trust without validation by an intermediary.

Blockchain (often called the chain of trust) is a technology can support a new generation of transactional applications and streamlined business processes by establishing the trust, accountability, and transparency that are essential to modern commerce.

Our team from IBM Healthcare recently won the Blockchain health IT ideation challenge:  “Use of Blockchain in Health IT and Health-related Research Challenge” sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). IBM’s winning paper describes the potential impact that blockchain can have on the key healthcare industry challenges. IBM’s entry was selected from more than 70 submissions addressing ways that Blockchain technology might be used in health and health IT to advance industry interoperability needs as well as for Patient Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR), the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), delivery system reform, and other healthcare delivery needs, as well as provide recommendations for Blockchain’s implementation.

Blockchain’s potential impact on key healthcare challenges:

Blockchain can be applied to resolve many of the healthcare industry challenges, including the issues of security, scalability, interoperability, and privacy:

Pain Points Blockchain’s Impacts
Interoperability, accessibility and data integrity Eliminates data silos and aggregates clinical data from EMRs driving seamless interoperability between healthcare systems. Records are guaranteed to be cryptographically secure.
Privacy and Security Enhance security through encryption and cryptology, while supporting management and enforcement of complex permission settings for participants and 3rd parties.
Healthcare Delivery Models & Cost Enables Fee-for-value (as against fee-for-service) through integration with Internet of Things (IoT), and addresses trade-off between personalized care and operational costs by connecting the ecosystem to universal infrastructure.
Fraud and Abuse Reduces fraud with blockchain-timestamped protocols and reduces abuse through blockchain enabled traceability and accountability.
Process and Complexity Accelerated approval paths result in faster pre-authorization, impacting cycle time to pay claims, benefits verification and pre-authorization.
Consumer Engagement Outcomes are improved through integration of blockchain, IoT and cognitive computing. With engaged patients owning data and controlling whom to share it with, blockchain enables emerging approaches for disease treatment and prevention.
Procurement and Contracting Intermediaries are reduced through use of smart contracts (distributed trust), and supply chains are streamlined (smart contracts).
Governance and Compliance Blockchain introduces efficiency and transparency to the heavily siloed healthcare industry by enabling involved parties to use a common blockchain, and allows health providers to share networks without compromising data privacy, security, or integrity

IBM Blockchain Initiatives:

To help speed the adoption of blockchain for business, IBM has introduced a new framework for securely operating blockchain networks, as well as new services on the IBM Cloud that are designed to meet existing regulatory and security requirements. Through IBM Bluemix Developers can create and test a blockchain on the cloud and can connect with our IBM experts and each other to find new ways to apply blockchains in business.

More information on IBM’s commitment to Blockchain can be found at:

What Blockchain is Not

Like every technology, blockchain has limitations and is not suited for application to all scenarios. It is not well suited for high performance transactions involving just one participant with no business network involved, or for replicated database replacement. It is not useful as a transaction-processing replacement and is unsuitable for low-value, high-volume transactions.  Scalability is also a significant challenge currently.

Summing Up

Blockchain will play an increasingly significant role bring beneficial disruption and new efficiencies to every stakeholder in the ecosystem. For blockchain to fulfill its potential, it must be based on open technology standards.  IBM is committed to helping make blockchain real for business, and is committing similar efforts we did to mainstream Linux, Eclipse, Java, Spark, and other open source technologies.


Vice President & Partner, Application Innovation Consulting, US Public Sector & Healthcare

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