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IBM Makes Another Blockchain Identity Play With Health Data App

IBM’s blockchain division is widening its work in the nascent field of “self-sovereign identity” – technology designed to give individuals greater control over their personal data.

Announced today, the tech giant is working with Hu-manity.co, whose #My31 app just became available on iOS and Android mobile devices. The app’s name alludes to the idea that legal ownership of one’s data should by a “31st human right” in addition to the 30 already ratified by the United Nations.

It’s the latest in a series of similar projects IBM has been involved in. Others include SecureKey, a bank consortium building a digital ID system in Canada, and Sovrin, contributor of the Indy toolkit for Hyperledger-based blockchains.

As such, the partnership with Hu-manity is a strong signal that Big Blue sees long-term business value in this use case for distributed ledgers. Marie Wieck, the general manager of IBM Blockchain, told CoinDesk:

“Getting people’s permissioned rights on a blockchain will create a marketplace and entirely new economic business models as a result.”

Indeed, while Hu-manity’s app is consumer-facing, an enterprise version will be generally available to corporations starting in the healthcare industry in the first quarter of 2019, Wieck said.

“We tend to agree that data is the next natural resource and like a natural resource has to be mined responsibly in the same way,” she added. “Blockchain combined with the notion of rights to individual data, facilitates the distributed sharing of that information securely and at scale.”

Richie Etwaru, founder and CEO of Hu-manity, has a similarly expansive vision. Starting with the well-established market for health record data, he said he expects location data, search history and e-commerce habits will also be “owned” by users.

Upon claiming their data property rights, Hu-manity users receive a title of ownership, akin to a property deed. Thereafter their personal details, signature and photograph can be added in the form of a hash on the blockchain, along with things like the individual’s data-sharing preferences.

While the Hu-manity.co global consent ledger, which records the granting and revocation of permission to use someone’s data, is built on the IBM Blockchain Platform using Hyperledger Fabric, the two companies will also collaborate with Sovrin.

Data: The new oil?

Comparing the personal data humans produce to crude oil, Etwaru told CoinDesk, “The partnership with IBM enables private blockchain to create a direct relationship between the crude data provider – the human being – and the buyer of the refined data at the end of the supply chain.”

And in its refined form, personal data such as a patient’s health record changes hands for an average of around $400, Ewaru pointed out.

Yet regulations in the U.S. and beyond are very unspecific when it comes to personal data and can be interpreted in different ways, noted Etwaru.

Provided data has been masked, an organization may sell it for specific uses, which might often be for research as opposed to overtly commercial purposes. However, there could equally be an interpretation whereby an individual has the right to notify a corporation requesting them not sell data in the de-authorized format.

But wide adoption of an empowering data-sharing app, he said, would constitute a “call to action, and pool consensus around how laws should actually work,” Etwaru said.

And it’s not only the individual who stands to gain. Rather than walking on eggshells concerning people’s growing awareness of their privacy (or lack thereof), Etwaru said, corporations could have clarity and transparency by virtue of what describes as a “movement.”

“The end buyer could have better compliance posture if they use our data and we can figure out the economics between the individual and the buyer. The pharmaceutical industry has never really been offered an explicit consenting relationship with individuals before,” he said.

IBM’s Wieck added that large anonymous datasets can be noisy and inaccurate, but could be better relied upon to be clean using the blockchain app.   

“In clinical trials, there would be a way of tracking data and ensuring these are all real human beings and doing it at scale. Trust and transparency have been a challenge up until now,” she said.  

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Taiwan Hospital Launches Blockchain-powered Healthcare Platform

Taipei Medical University Hospital has established an online healthcare platform driven by blockchain technology to integrate and improve record-keeping among medical institutions in the country.

Blockchain Healthcare Platform

As reported by Taipei Times, the project tagged “Healthcare Blockchain Platform,” is the result of the collaboration of over 100 community clinics, and is established to address issues currently plaguing the country’s healthcare system, such as patient referrals and transfer of patient personal and health records between health institutions.

Currently, inter-hospital transfers are a long and arduous process, and hospitals have referral counters where nurses have to assist patients with referral requests. But with this platform, patients will be able to access complete medical records and seek physician referrals by merely logging into a mobile app. While various medical institutions can request for and authorize a transfer of patient records, using smart contracts.

Speaking on the project, Chen Ray-Jade, Taipei Medical University Hospital Superintendent, had this to say:

Blockchain technology not only helps to combine electronic medical records with electronic health records from multiple hospitals and clinics, it also incorporates the additional security feature of notification and consent before any transfer takes place.

Chen also said that the decentralized nature of blockchain technology would greatly reduce the risk of data theft.

Also speaking on the development, Wang Yao-Ting, a physician at Zhuang Jing Clinic, said:

With access to all the medical and health data of a referred patient through blockchains, doctors can gain a better understanding of their general health.

Blockchain Adoption in the Health Sector

Apart from trading and logistics, blockchain technology is beginning to find increasing utility in the health industry. From securing patient records to combating fake pharmaceutical products, healthcare is fast becoming a popular real-world adoption arena for the emerging technology.

In Singapore, MetLife’s innovation center, LumenLab has started testing its automated insurance solution called Vitana. The app which is based on blockchain technology will offer automatic insurance payouts to pregnant women who have gestational diabetes. It is the first insurance product designed for gestational diabetes in the country, and one in five pregnant women in Singapore are diagnosed with this condition.

ALLIVE has partnered with Ontology to create an intelligent healthcare system powered by blockchain technology. The system which is geared towards lowering the cost of health care. There is an ID system – Olife which will be used to create and maintain patient profiles, as well as, an AI system – Olivia that will operate as a virtual medical care provider. There is also Oleaf an interface that will enable patients, medical practitioners, insurance companies and other stakeholders to work together using secure and reliable data.

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Biotech Giant Plans to Securely Share Genetic Data on a Blockchain

A publicly traded biotech giant based in South Korea is turning to blockchain to allow it to share genetic data without risk of hacking or infringement of patients’ privacy.

Macrogen, a DNA sequencing service provider with headquarters in Seoul, said in a press release on Monday that it is working with Big Data firm Bigster to develop a blockchain network for the distribution of genomic information, which is slated for completion by June 2019.

In the medical field, according to the release, genomic data is used for customized patient diagnosis and treatment, while the pharmaceutical industry can use it for the development of new drugs and therapeutic agents.

Yet, despite the high utilization value of DNA data within healthcare, it is not widely shared due to the sensitive nature of the information to patients and the risk of privacy breaches.

Yang Kap-seok, CEO of Macrogen, commented in the release:

“Despite the fact that genomic data is widely used, it has not been easy to share it because of the problem of personal information protection. With the blockchain platform we seek to build this time, we expect to create an ecosystem that can freely distribute genetic data.”

To that end, the firms plan a system based on a consortium blockchain model that will only allow invited parties – such as pharmaceutical firms, research institutes, hospitals and genetic analysis startups – to run as nodes on the decentralized network, limiting who can access the data.

Macrogen is not the only technology giant looking to apply blockchain tech within the genomics industry.

As far back as 2014, an Israeli startup called DNA.Bits announced plans to store genetic and medical record data using blockchain technology.

And, as previously reported by CoinDesk, a patent application filed by Intel indicated that the hardware firm is exploring ways to take advantage of the energy generated during cryptocurrency mining to sequence DNA.

DNA sequence image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Mount Sinai Hospital to Explore Blockchain Applications

The New York-based medical school founded by Mount Sinai Hospital has launched a new research center focused on blockchain applications in healthcare.

On Tuesday, The Icahn School of Medicine said the Center for Biomedical Blockchain Research would be created inside the school’s Institute for Next Generation Healthcare, which researches the application of artificial intelligence, robotics, genomic sequencing, sensors and wearable devices in medicine, New York-based news organization Crain’s reported.

The center’s staff will conduct academic research on blockchain in medicine, as well as create their own prototype networks. The possible use cases include drug development and preventing the sale of counterfeit drugs, clinical trials and a better research reproducibility, Healthcare IT News wrote.

The new center will be run by Joel Dudley, executive vice president of Precision Health at Mount Sinai and a former senior data scientist at Pivotal Software, which researches the use of artificial intelligence in biology. Dudley was previously involved in designing predictive models in healthcare.

His new focus will revolve around developing predictive health applications using the information from electronic health records, wearable devices and other digital sources.

The project began with bringing together a database of 144 companies that are working on blockchain projects related to healthcare. They include CoverUs, which works on allowing patients to get paid for their health data via a specialized exchange, and Embleema, which is designed to connect patient-generated health data and electronic medical records in a common secure repository.

The companies on the list have raised a combined $670 million through initial coin offerings, Crain’s wrote.

Medical school image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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A Solution to China's Pharma Woes Might Be a Blockchain Away

A still-evolving vaccine scandal in China prompted a range of social media discussions in the past week around how blockchain could have prevented such a situation – or how it might be used to stop it in the future.

To recap, ChangChun Changsheng Bio-technology, a pharmaceutical firm based in Jilin, is accused of having sold about 252,600 units of questionable DPT vaccine, not long after this Shenzhen-listed public firm was found forging data on about 113,000 substandard rabies vaccines, according to a report from the South China Morning Post.

Notably, this is not the first vaccine-related scandal occurred in China in the past year. Several pharmaceutical companies have been involved in producing and selling a great number of DPT vaccines, and a majority of them remain unpunished to this day.

There’s little doubt that the latest exposure of wrongdoing has caused yet another outcry among the public and the scandal-plagued pharmaceutical industry. At its heart, the snowballing problems have raised a core question: how can Chinese families protect their kids and themselves?

The idea that blockchain could allow for the more efficient dispersal of data about vaccines spread soon after the rabies vaccine scandal broke.

A computer programmer under the username @wstart arguably got the ball rolling on V2EX, a Reddit-like online community. According to his post, after spending about 14 hours on data mining and coding, he was able to locate problematic vaccines in 30 provinces.

During the process, he explained, it became apparent how surprisingly difficult it was to gather all the information he needed, with some still remaining unavailable or unsearchable.

And that’s when the crypto community in China started to come out and highlight blockchain as a possible solution.

Chaining data

As CoinDesk reported Monday, Xiaolai Li, one of the best-known of the country’s crypto investors, was among the first to have sparked the discussion about blockchain adoption in the pharmaceutical industry.

In his WeChat article, the crypto investor argued that the technology could help offer visibility as medicines move through the supply chain – that is, as they transported from the facility at which they are made to the hospitals that distributed them.

According to anonymous commentary which appeared on Jianshu, a blog site in China, the author said that blockchain has largely been “demonized” by many people because of the many token sale scandals (China banned ICOs in 2017).

But people should also remind themselves that blockchain itself is only a technology, the anonymous poster argued.

And the idea of Chinese firms using blockchain for supply-chain purposes isn’t exactly new. Companies like JD.com and Walmart are already applying the tech to tracing food shipments, for example.

Zhipeng Cheng, a financial commentator at China Finance Online, a China-based financial information company, offered a more detailed plan on how blockchain can be used in the pharmaceutical industry in an op-ed from earlier this week.

By using blockchain technology, he said in his article, the National Institutes for Food and Drug Control (NIFDC) can form a public chain for its inspection technology and share its technology for vaccines tracking. Institutes and organizations can apply and participate in the public chain, he argued.

Though just a technology, Cheng said that he believes the country should “embrace blockchain and put it into practice.”

From ideas to practice?

Local news stories suggest that movement toward this is already taking place.

Beijing News, a Beijing government-backed news outlet, reported on July 24 that several blockchain firms in China are already responding to the growing chatter about making vaccines safer and have responded by putting keywords like “vaccines” and “embed vaccine on chain” in their social media accounts.

Yet not everyone seems so enthusiastic about the concept.

The question “can a mathematical algorithm really solve a trust crisis?” was posted by a commentator on DoNews, a technology news website in China, earlier this week.

As they argued:

“Blockchain technology cannot put an end to the production of the problematic vaccines, and it would even be hard to change the status quo – because the operation of this industry is deeply centralized. It is simply an abysmal ‘black box.’ Nobody can really be sure about the trace of the internal operation until any serious problems leak again. Once that happens, its “system” would give you some sort of ‘data’ which would make you feel stupid.”

The author then concluded that blockchain is only a technology, which will not solve the much more complicated social issues that deeply rooted in Chinese society.

Another article from July 23 appeared on Zhihu, the Chinese version of Quora, also doubted the feasibility of the blockchain adoption from a more technological side.

People cannot guarantee “the authenticity of the original information,” the author argued. “For example, the information of the vaccine production can be false even before it gets on the chain.”

Indeed, at least one startup has attracted the interest from regulators regarding a claim that it is putting together a blockchain platform for this purpose, as CoinDesk previously reported.

Censorship at work

The examples show that there is an earnest discussion taking place within China’s social media ecosystem on this dilemma.

But the ever-present issue of state censorship makes it difficult to get a firm grasp on how detailed the conversations have been beyond news outlets and blog posts and the comments that accompany them.

On Weibo, for example, no results are shown when searching the keywords “blockchain” and “vaccine” – an indication that those posts are being masked. Yet notably, it may be blockchain itself that helps enable conversations the one taking place around the vaccine issue.

The original article – dubbed “the King of Vaccine,” which unveiled the newest scandal – is currently blocked on Chinese social media. Yet someone has permanently recorded it on the ethereum blockchain, as shown on Etherescan.

As this post on BTC123.com, a China-based crypto online community, explained:

“At 2.49. 54 (s) a.m. July 22, 2018, an article named ‘the King of Vaccine’ has been permanently recorded on Etherescan at 6007493. It might just be a small step in the blockchain world. Someday, it might become a huge step in the human history.”

Vaccination image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Deloitte: 3 out of 4 Big Companies See 'Compelling' Case for Blockchain

According to a Deloitte survey presented Tuesday at CoinDesk’s Consensus event in New York City, 74 percent of large companies across seven countries see a “compelling business case” for blockchain technology.

Deloitte – the multinational “Big Four” firm that provides tax, auditing and consulting services – conducted the survey in late March and early April. The approximately 1,000 respondents represented companies with annual sales of at least $500 million in the U.S., China, Mexico, the U.K., France, Germany and Canada.

The firms represented a range of industries: financial services was the biggest group at 23 percent, followed by technology, media and telecommunications at 18 percent. Other industries included consumer products and healthcare.

In a statement, the head of Deloitte’s U.S. financial services blockchain group, Linda Pawczuk, said the survey showed that “momentum is shifting from a focus on ‘blockchain tourism’ and exploring the technology’s potential to building practical business applications.”

Around half of the respondents who saw a “compelling” case for blockchain – 34 percent of the total – said their companies already have some form of blockchain system in production. An additional 41 percent said they aim to launch a blockchain application within the next year.

The enthusiasm for blockchain was not universally shared, however. Globally, 39 percent said blockchain is “overhyped,” with 44 percent of those saying so in the U.S. – up 10 percentage points from 2016.

American companies were generally less gung-ho about investing in blockchain than their counterparts in other countries – particularly China, where zero firms said they would not invest in blockchain within the coming year, compared to 16 percent in the U.S.

“Thinking specifically of blockchain technology, what is the approximate investment your organization will make in the next calendar year in this area?” Source: Deloitte.

Another notable finding that emerged from the survey is the overlap between firms that see a compelling case for blockchain, and firms that think it’s overhyped. At least a few respondents said both are true. The explanation likely has something to do with another result: 68 percent of firms globally are afraid of losing competitive advantage if they don’t adopt blockchain technology.

As for what firms mean by “blockchain” – an occasionally contentious issue at Consensus so far – 52 percent of firms said they’re focusing on permissioned models, 44 percent on private models internal to their own companies and 44 percent on public models such as ethereum (they were allowed to select more than one).

Survey image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Blythe Masters: Business Blockchain Won't Be 'Winner-Takes-All'

Speaking to an audience in New York City on Thursday, Digital Asset CEO Blythe Masters and R3 founder and CEO David Rutter worked hard to cast their projects not as applications but as entire ecosystems for developers to build apps of their own.

Rutter and Masters took the stage during the first session of the Synchronize 2018 event. For Masters and Digital Asset, the fireside chat was an opportunity to showcase a new developer program built around the startup’s smart contract scripting language, DAML (which stands for Digital Asset Markup Language).

“The reality,” Masters said, “is that not all smart contracts are created equal, and some are not entirely smart.” She added that “simply building guardrails” is a powerful tool to prevent catastrophes arising from poorly coded smart contracts.

Masters was alluding to the hack and subsequent collapse of The DAO, the ethereum-based funding vehicle that fell apart in 2016 following a debilitating code exploit.

Indeed, both chief executives spoke about the need for outside input – and development – for their respective platforms.

Rutter said that “we aspire to be the internet for finance and if you want to do that you’re not going to do it with 175 people and $120 million,” and Masters, on the question of interoperability, said “we need cooperation” in order to connect the different types of technology platforms being created. 

“I don’t think it’s going to be a winner-takes-all outcome,” she went on to say.

In addition to security and reliability, the discussion focused on confidentiality.

“When you’re talking about markets where trillions of dollars are traded every day,” Rutter said, confidentiality is incredibly important. R3’s Corda platform and Digital Asset, he continued, “are going to create innovation in financial services for the first time in our lives.”

For both platforms, however, the most important thing is cultivating a community of developers to build on top of the base-level ledger.

“We don’t think the proprietary vertical stack is the way to go,” said Rutter, adding that firms that pursue that outcome “will pay the price.”

Image by David Floyd for CoinDesk

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Bank of America Sees Blockchain As Way to Replace Internal Ledgers

Bank of America may be looking into creating a single transaction ledger to replace existing data sharing systems with a blockchain, according to a patent application released Thursday.

The filing, published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), outlines a permissioned blockchain which, if implemented, would securely record and authenticate personal and business data, ensuring only authorized parties can access it. Further, the system would keep a log of everyone who accesses the data, according to the application.

The document proposes using such a blockchain as a way to combine existing data storage platforms into a single secure network, increasing efficiency by reducing the number of storage locations for a user’s data.

According to the document, which was first filed in 2016, service providers and private individuals are increasingly using the internet to share personal and business records, primarily through dedicated web portals and email attachments. However, “there are a number of disadvantages to using this type of electronic record sharing method,” including having to repeat the process for each company and the risk of data corruption.

Using a blockchain would create a more efficient system, wherein an individual can store all of their records in a single digital ledger. Businesses and service providers would be able to access these records as necessary.

Notably, this would be a permissioned blockchain, the filing notes. It continues:

“Embodiments of the invention utilize a private blockchain to store various types of records to be conveyed to the service providers. In this way, the individual or entity may securely store on the blockchain all records relevant to service providers, then provide the service providers with secured access to said records such that the providers may access only the specific records for which they are authorized, e.g. a healthcare provider may access only the healthcare records on the blockchain.”

Bank of America image via Peter L. Gould / Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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US Insurance Giants UnitedHealth and Humana Launch Blockchain Pilot

Two of the largest health insurance providers in the U.S. announced Monday that they would pursue a blockchain pilot aimed at improving the quality of healthcare data.

UnitedHealth Group and Humana – who are largely rivals in the health insurance industry- said that they would develop the pilot in cooperation with MultiPlan and Quest Diagnostics. UnitedHealth Group will participate through two of its subsidiaries, UnitedHealthcare and Optum.

According to a statement released by the companies involved:

“The pilot will examine how sharing data across health care organizations on blockchain technology can improve data accuracy, streamline administration and improve access to care. The pilot will also address the high cost of health care provider data management, testing the premise that administrative costs and data quality can be improved by sharing provider data inputs and changes made by different parties across a blockchain, potentially reducing operational costs while improving data quality.”

It’s not clear at this time whether the pilot would involve an existing platform or the development of a wholly new one. UnitedHealth and Humana did not immediately respond to requests for further information.

Still, the pilot is targeting a key pain point in the healthcare industry – data reconciliation – that according to one estimate costs as much as $2.1 billion in annual spending. And firms like UnitedHealth have eyed blockchain for potential applications in the past; last week, a group of insurers and reinsurers launched a new commercial venture that grew out of an existing consortium effort.

Health data and computer image via Shutterstock 

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.