Staying ahead of the law - Blockchain Technology in Health Care

August 14, 2016

Emerging technologies and innovations continue to stay ahead of regulatory standards. In this respect, the Federal Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has recently gone to a second phase in studying potential uses and implementation of a concept known as “Blockchain” technology in health care and research. An upcoming workshop entitled, “Use of Blockchain for Healthcare and Research” is scheduled for September 26-27, 2016 at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Registration is available here up through September 19, 2016: https://appam.certain.com/profile/form/index.cfm?PKformID=0x31066c5b2.

HHS notes that a Blockchain is a “data structure that can be timed-stamped and signed using a private key to prevent tampering.” The concept uses a distributed ledger which is maintained on a peer-to-peer system of servers across an industry to ensure the accuracy of information and verification of transactions. The technology is part of the original platform for bitcoin currency developed in 2008. Its potential application to health information exchange, eligibility and reimbursement systems could be revolutionary. The HHS workshop will provide a forum for discussion of these uses and will follow HHS’ recent campaign named the “Ideation Challenge”. This challenge solicited white papers on the topic of Blockchain’s uses in Health IT and/or Healthcare Related Research Data. HHS specifically called out the following potential uses in this area:

  1. Digitally sign information,
  2. Computable enforcement of policies and contracts (smart contracts),
  3. Management of Internet of Things devices,
  4. Distributed encrypted storage, and
  5. Distributed trust.

(See July, 2016 Federal Register announcement at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/07/08/2016-16133/office-of-the-national-coordinator-for-health-information-technology-announcement-of-requirements.)

In the financial sector, Blockchain technology has allowed for the exchange of “virtual currency” without the need for a banking intermediary or paper exchange. This technology is now being studied for uses beyond virtual currencies. More to come as the law catches up.