CDC Explores Blockchain to Better Share and Track EHR Data

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has explored the digital ledger technology to secure data from electronic health records.

It's not just providers and research organizations that are exploring what blockchain can do to improve care coordination and delivery. Blockchain technology has been on the radar of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since at least the summer of 2017. Now, the CDC has taken early proofs of concept it worked on last year a step further with a full-blown pilot in partnership with industry.

The CDC test is exploring the effect of bringing blockchain into the agency’s electronic health record data-sharing system. The goal is to build trust in the data that is stored and shared.

Not many users trust data-sharing systems because they cannot “see, as the data moves through its lifecycle, who has access to it at what point,” Askari Rizvi, chief of the technical services branch of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics said during a webinar earlier this month, GCN reports.

The CDC’s Office of Technology and Innovation and the National Center for Health Statistics worked with IBM, a leading blockchain proponent, to create a pilot program for an EHR blockchain.

As GCN notes, the goal is to “secure data and metadata collected from EHRs with clients’ consent and to give the data lifecycle far more transparency.” This is critical because the CDC and local health departments share data all the time, sometimes on outbreaks of virulent diseases, as MIT Technology Review reports.

The digital ledger nature of blockchain makes it an ideal choice to record transactions for data owners, healthcare providers, the CDC and other agencies. That gives all of the players involved, including users and auditors, confidence that the data is secure and accurate when it is transferred, and it also allows them all to determine if the data has been tampered with.

Find out what health IT leaders think the impact of blockchain will be on healthcare

Data Transparency Stands to Get a Boost from Blockchain

As FedTech has reported, the blockchain ledger can be used to exchange documents, information or data, but since the ledger resides on every computer (or “node”) in the system, it makes it more difficult to tamper with data. If one user in the blockchain alters the data, everyone else in the chain can immediately see.

“From our perspective at CDC and NCHS, we’re looking for innovative solutions to resolve our business problems, so we created a blockchain use case to potentially see what types of current and future EHR data collection challenges can be addressed,” Rizvi said during the webinar, according to Federal News Radio.

Under the pilot, the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which collects information about ambulatory care services in hospital emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, submits data to the CDC.

“There are a number of edits that we conduct on the data. There’s a rigorous process on the NCHS side to review the data, and then we store the data, and then we make a public use file,” Rizvi said during the webinar, Federal News Radio reports. “We’ll be able to see exactly, as the data moves through the lifecycle, who has access to it, and at which point. There are no limitations on the frequency of the data received or the size of it.”

According to Rizvi, the blockchain pilot provides “complete transparency” to the healthcare providers and CDC officials, while still complying with privacy laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Woong Yoon, IBM’s chief architect of blockchain solutions for healthcare and life sciences, said on the webinar that blockchain facilitates data transfers.

“Nowadays, all separate systems have their own data,” he said. “Each entity has their own data. When they try to share data, they have to establish [an application programming interface] to transfer data, and if there’s multiple parties, then the complexity grows exponentially, and there is no trust, because everybody has only a limited view to their data only.”

Blockchain means that everyone involved is working from “one source of the truth for all the transactions.” Yoon added: “The whole point of using blockchain is creating trust among more participants, so they can truly share data by means of the distributed ledger, instead of hiding and holding onto your own data only by yourself.”

So far, the CDC seems to agree. “The overarching blockchain benefits that we’ve seen thus far is that it is easier to manage than send and share data. Blockchain seems to embed inherent privacy and security controls,” Rizvi said.

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Aug 30 2018