The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has announced winners of its challenge seeking industry ideas on how blockchain technology could be used in healthcare to protect, manage and exchange electronic health information.

Blockchain’s core technology, which underlies the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, is a “data structure that can be timed-stamped and signed using a private key to prevent tampering,” according to ONC.

While the technology is being used in the financial industry, healthcare has yet to embrace it, but the agency believes blockchain has potential to address privacy, security, and scalability challenges of managing electronic health records and resources.

Of the more than 70 submitted white papers the agency received from individuals, organizations, and vendors, ONC picked 15 final winners that will be awarded a cash prize; as many as eight winners may be invited to present their papers at a workshop co-hosted with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, set for September 26 and 27 at the NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, MD.

“We are thrilled by the incredible amount of interest in this challenge,” said newly appointed National Coordinator for Health IT Vindell Washington, MD. “While many know about blockchain technology’s uses for digital currency purposes, the challenge submissions show its exciting potential for new, innovative uses in healthcare.”

Among the winners selected by ONC is a team that included Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and MIT Media Lab. Their winning paper proposes MedRec, a decentralized record management system to handle EHRs and medical research data using blockchain technology that manages authentication, confidentiality, accountability and data sharing.

“MedRec proposes an innovative model for using blockchain technology that sits on top of existing EHRs to support patient access to their records distributed across multiple locations,” says John Halamka, MD, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “The field testing we did at BIDMC was a first step in understanding how integration with EHRs could work.”

The Mayo Clinic submitted a blockchain-based approach to “sharing patient data that trades a single centralized source of trust in favor of network consensus, and predicates consensus on proof of structural and semantic interoperability.”

On the vendor side, Accenture’s proposal suggests blockchain technology solutions that “can support many existing healthcare business processes, improve data integrity and enable at-scale interoperability for information exchange, patient tracking, identity assurance and validation.”

For its part, Deloitte Consulting submitted a winning paper with a “presentation of an implementation framework and business case for using blockchain as part of health information exchange to satisfy national healthcare objectives.”

IBM’s Global Business Service Public Sector proposal includes “potential uses of blockchain technology in healthcare including a detailed look at healthcare pre-authorization payment infrastructure, counterfeit drug prevention and detection and clinical trial results use cases.”

A complete list of all 15 winners, with links to their papers, can be found here.

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