How Blockchain Identity Trust Is Fostering New Applications in Healthcare
Can identity trust be integrated with blockchain technology? The answer to that question appears to be yes, according to a recently completed proof-of-concept study conducted by Peer Ledger, a Canadian blockchain company; SAFE-BioPharma Association, the organization managing the global SAFE-BioPharma digital identity management standard; and Synchronoss, a leading provider of standards-based digital identities.
This development is believed to have significant implications for the use of distributed electronic ledgers (i.e., blockchains) for medical, pharmaceutical and other health system applications.
The purpose of the study was to demonstrate that cyber identities that comply with the SAFE-BioPharma standard may, via Peer Ledger APIs, enable blockchain identities to be de-anonymized, thereby fulfilling a requirement for double-blind clinical trials, audits and responsible supply chains. Prior to the study, identities associated with distributed electronic ledgers were entirely anonymous.
“Identity trust” means that there is trust in each cyber identity, using a process that proves the individual’s identity before linking it to the cyber credential. In general terms, it means that the credential can be trusted to represent the vetted identity of the individual one is doing business with but has never met face-to-face. This is critically important to the pharma/life sciences space because of several factors, including deterrence of hackers seeking valuable patient records and intellectual property, as well as compliance with regulations protecting patient data.
These discoveries underscore the power of blockchain technology to disrupt traditional practices for drug discovery, patient engagement and monitoring, payments and participatory healthcare delivery. Here, the technology leverages its quality as a shared, synchronized, distributed ledger of transactions, fostering security and decreasing fraud by providing a permanent record of who accessed ledgers and what activities they engaged in.
The proof of concept demonstrated that SAFE-BioPharma-compliant digital identities can be tied back to the blockchain to assure trust in the identity of each person engaged in the transaction. Transactions can be anonymous until the end of a clinical study and “chained back” to the proven identity of the user, if needed, for regulatory or clinical purposes. Alternatively, the identities associated with each block can be known throughout the process, such as in track-and-trace applications for the medical supply chain.
Blockchain technology’s use of a group-consensus algorithm can be used to catch intentional or inadvertent double spending of an asset. For example, an accounts-receivable blockchain application can provide “multiple eyes” to prevent double invoicing. Similarly, a counterfeit-catching purchasing blockchain application can prevent harmful substances and devices from entering the medical system.
Ultimately, for blockchain technology to reach its full potential in any sector, myriad systems must be interoperable. Currently, healthcare technologies rarely work in a highly synchronized way with one another, which is why pharmaceutical and other medical companies that already have powerful identity management tools are trialing a number of different blockchain-based applications.
Thus far, these apps have been unable to bridge to the systems pharma companies use to establish identity credentials for their personnel. This is the problem addressed in the proof of concept. Peer Ledger has therefore developed software that now maps a trusted identity, from the Synchronoss-implemented Verizon Universal Identity Services system to blockchain credentials.
“Every SAFE-BioPharma-compliant identity credential accurately represents the proven identity of the person using it,” explains Mollie Shields-Uehling, president and CEO of SAFE-BioPharma Association. “Teaming these credentials with anonymous blockchain ledger postings enables use cases critical for overall cybersecurity across healthcare and the life sciences.”
When asked about future applications of all of this for healthcare, Shields-Uehling and Dawn Jutla, CEO and founder of Peer Ledger, highlighted three major areas of blockchain intersection.
Blockchain and clinical trials: In order to co-partner in the discovery of cures, patients may give pharmaceutical companies direct access to their digitized healthcare records, thus improving both data used for research and the speed of patient treatment. Britain’s Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Mark Walport, has argued that the National Health Service, which provides healthcare for 65 million people, should use blockchain technology to improve such tasks as the sharing of health records.
Blockchain and data collection: Earlier this year, IBM Watson Health announced it would work with the FDA to develop a secure, efficient and scalable exchange of health data using blockchain technology. Oncology data will be the initial focus.
Blockchain and personalized precision medicine: Blockchain technology’s cryptography will secure economical home healthcare sensor feeds. Trusted identity will be important to ensure that the right test results are associated with the right patient.