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HHS and ONC call for research on blockchain technology

When the government gets involved with a certain technology in healthcare you know there’s a good chance that technology has some promise. Just look at what happened with EHRs and the government’s meaningful use program.

Well, now the government is starting to get involved with blockchain technology. HHS and ONC announced the “Blockchain and Its Emerging Role in Healthcare and Health-related Research” Ideation Challenge.

HHS and ONC describe blockchain technology as “a data structure that can be timed-stamped and signed using a private key to prevent tampering.”

The agencies categorize the main types of blockchain as public, private and consortium.

Other industries are already getting in on the technology. Companies such as Microsoft have already formed partnerships to develop blockchain technology and experts say blockchain may disrupt the financial and legal fields as well.

HHS and ONC maintain blockchain could also have several uses in healthcare, including:

However, blockchain technology and its applicability to healthcare is still evolving and maturing, HHS and ONC said in their announcement.

The agencies said that those who support the use of blockchain in healthcare think it could be used to address concerns regarding the privacy, security and scalability of health records. Critics, on the other hand, say that this would take enormous processing power and specialized equipment, which would outweigh the benefits of the technology in healthcare.

The Ideation Challenge calls for white papers on the topic of blockchain and its potential uses in health IT.

HHS and ONC appear most interested in the cryptography aspect of the technology and the underlying fundamentals of blockchain. They also want to know how this technology could advance industry interoperability needs, help with patient centered outcomes, precision medicine and other needs within healthcare.

The agencies have solicited recommendations for the implementation of blockchain technology.

The winners of this challenge will get the opportunity to present their white paper at an industry-wide “Blockchain and Healthcare Workshop” co-hosted by ONC and The National Institute of Standards and Technology.