IBM Doubles Down On Blockchain To Improve Security Of Personal Health Records

September 6, 2018 10:00 PM

Is IBM positioning itself to be a leader in blockchain technology? Of course it is.

Ever since its creation in 1911, tech giant IBM has been at the forefront of world-changing technology. It helped the war effort in 1942 by using its tabulating machine to monitor freight traffic. In the 1960s, it developed massive computers designed to help government entities and big businesses keep track of payroll, inventory, and customer data. In 1981, it debuted the IBM personal computer. Now it’s focused on transitioning the promise of blockchain technology into real-world utility.

In February 2017, Big Blue partnered with the government of Dubai to research how blockchain technology can be used in the logistics industry. In August of this year, IBM was contracted by Australian authorities to help build a national blockchain platform to improve the efficiency of sharing legal documents. In July, the tech giant collaborated with Columbia University to create a blockchain research and education center.

According to recent announcements, IBM is now looking into ways blockchain technology can help people take control of their personal health data.

According to a September 6 announcement on Businesswire, IBM will provide human rights/tech company its blockchain platform to serve as a foundation for a global consent ledger to help individuals “claim property rights to their personal data.”

“IBM has long been focused on providing data stewardship which supports our belief that your data is your data,” said Bridget van Kralingen, a senior vice president of IBM Global Industries.

The announcement states that the new application, which was built on the IBM blockchain, will not actually store personal health records – those will still be stored at a hospital or doctor’s office – but that the platform will let users define how their personal data is shared, with whom, and under what circumstances. App users will also reportedly be given the option of leasing their medical data to researchers for a fair price.

The new app, called #My31 (which refers to the idea of personal data rights being the 31st human right), is currently only available on Android devices, but plans to launch an iPhone version soon.

In addition to collaborating with, IBM has also partnered with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to develop a blockchain platform to track public health issues, such as the ongoing opioid epidemic, and improve the security of personal health records, according to a September 4 article in tech magazine Fast Company. That new system, which has reportedly been tested using simulated data, also has the potential to improve the efficacy of the CDC’s data collection process. 

According to the Fast Company article, the CDC already conducts surveys to collect information about patient visits from hospitals and doctors around the country concerning things such as sleep problems, and how and why doctors are prescribing antibiotics and opioid painkillers.

Like the system, the CDC’s new blockchain platform is not intended to actually store personal health data, but to track who is allowed to access this information. In this case, that information will be encrypted and held in IBM’s cloud system.

Researchers and medical providers will apparently be able to connect to the blockchain platform to update who has been granted access to certain types of data, and only those who have been granted access will be able to obtain encryption keys necessary to unlock the information from IBM’s cloud system. 

Although there is not a specific timeline for the launch of the new CDC blockchain platform, Askari Rizvi, chief of the technical services branch of the CDC’s Division of Health Care Statistics, said that blockchain technology will “one day” help public health officials to gather more information from medical providers.

Whether or not these use cases for blockchain technology will truly help people to retain ownership of their personal health data – or improve the security of said data – is yet to be seen, but it is clear that IBM is positioning itself to be a leader in this corner of the blockchain ecosystem.

Nathan Graham is a full-time staff writer for ETHNews. He lives in Sparks, Nevada, with his wife, Beth, and dog, Kyia. Nathan has a passion for new technology, grant writing, and short stories. He spends his time rafting the American River, playing video games, and writing.

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