IBM Watson Health Partners With CDC in Blockchain Technology Effort

By: Jeff Bertolucci| - Leave a comment

IBM Watson Health has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research the potential of blockchain technology.

As reported by Fast Company, the CDC-Watson Health joint effort will assist in federal adoption of the distributed ledger technology, which promises to revolutionize a myriad of industries, spanning from insurance to banking and more.

IBM Chief Science Officer Shahram Ebadollahi made the announcement this week at the Watson Health panel discussion at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York City.

“This is, in essence, an extension of the work we’ve been doing this year with the FDA, exploring owner-mediated data exchange using blockchain,” said Ebadollahi, according to Fast Company.

The Benefits of Blockchain

The CDC sees great promise in blockchain technology, particularly in helping public health workers respond faster to health crises. It has been running proof-of-concept blockchain trials this year to find more secure and streamlined ways to manage, analyze and share data efficiently. Ideally, this should lead to timelier federal, state and local agency response to health issues and threats.

This interagency sharing of public health data presents a huge challenge to the CDC, reports MIT Technology Review. A successful data-sharing model requires the fast, transparent and secure flow of information between all parties involved. This task is well-suited to blockchain technology, which features an encrypted ledger shared by all computers in a network, rather than a single, trusted entity.

A blockchain can automate the labyrinthine government privacy rules and data-sharing regulations inherent in public health recordkeeping, federal officials believe. By eliminating inefficient manual processes that ensure the right person or group receives health data, blockchain technology can expedite a process that’s often slow and cumbersome, CDC officials told the MIT Technology Review.

Using AI to Power Health Care

The role of IBM Watson Health and artificial intelligence in the CDC’s blockchain project is a work in progress. The federal agency plans to reveal more details on the partnership in the coming months, noted Ebadollahi at the Fast Company event.

“With blockchain we can collect data and extract insights through AI, and the future will have an economy around that we can hardly even imagine right now,” Ebadollahi said.

Watson Health’s AI capabilities can help health care professionals keep up with the seemingly endless supply of new data, including more than 8,000 health care publications produced daily, IBM Chief Health Officer Kyu Rhee told Fast Company. For consumers, AI applications can greatly simplify the process of researching and buying a personal or family health plan, a process that has become increasingly complex.

Data With Insights

Poorly curated data is bad news for medical professionals. A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) thought piece predicts that business models of health care IT companies will fail within the next three to five years if providers don’t find better ways to derive actionable insights from big data.

One example of this insights-based solution, HBR notes, is an IBM Watson Health effort to leverage Truven Health Analytics data from more than 8,500 medical industry sources to improve diagnostics and find effective treatments.

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About The Author

Jeff Bertolucci

News Writer

Jeff Bertolucci is a Los Angeles-based journalist specializing in technology, digital media, and education. His work has appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, InformationWeek, PCWorld, Macworld, The Saturday Evening Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications.