Bringing Blockchain to Healthcare for a New View on Data

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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 being used to create a new model in which health data can be rapidly unlocked by authorized users through secure and transparent technologies managed and controlled by patients themselves, creating a system based on individual consent.

This new approach to managing health data 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. Currently, even the sharing of data for care interactions can be challenging. A patient’s health information is spread across many silos in the health system, each with their own data protection and access policies which are not interoperable.

To get this critical information, it becomes incredibly complex and time-consuming not only for the patient, but also for care providers who may be 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 were 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. These would include 1) unlocking the ability to share health records with a family member or other trusted third party,  2) donating your data to research and, 3) identifying trends for public health improvement. While these have yet to be realized, they will be explored in future initiatives.

A private-permissioned blockchain-based system offers new opportunities to harness the power of the 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 (carers) and authorized researchers, while revoking permissions for those that no longer have a need for them.

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.

Executive Director, Education Technology Innovation, University Health Network

Selina Brudnicki

Program Lead/Senior Project Manager, Digital Patient Experience, Data and Implementation Science, University Health Network

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