Australia: Using blockchain to secure and share health data

2017 has seen an increased focus on the use of blockchain technology in the healthcare industry.

The latest IBM Institute for Business Value blockchain study found that, of the 200 healthcare executives surveyed, around 16% are intending to implement a commercial blockchain solution later this year.

RECENT EXAMPLES OF BLOCKCHAIN IN THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY

Earlier this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and IBM (through IBM Watson Health) announced a new research initiative aimed at "defining a secure, efficient and scalable exchange of health information using blockchain technology".

The two-year collaboration, which will initially focus on oncology-related data, will test how data from disparate sources, can be securely stored and shared. This information might come from clinical trials, patient data or health data generated from mobile devices or wearables. This data can then be securely stored and shared amongst researchers and healthcare providers using blockchain technology. The FDA and IBM plan to publicise their initial findings later this year.

The collaboration is one of several government and industry blockchain partnerships occurring in the healthcare space. Another notable example is the Estonian government's partnership with cyber-security company, Guardtime, to deploy a blockchain-based system to secure over one million online patient records.

WHAT IS BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY?

Blockchain, or 'distributed ledger technology', is technology which allows a database or ledger to be shared amongst a distributed network of computers rather than sitting with a single provider. You might know blockchain as the technology which sits behind the virtual currency, bitcoin.

Data captured on a blockchain can be shared in real-time across a wide group of individuals and institutions. Each addition or change to the data becomes part of a permanent 'chain' and, as a result, it is almost impossible to tamper with data after it is captured and added to the chain.

Complex encryption protocols can be employed across the blockchain ensuring that certain data is restricted to particular groups or individuals. In Australia, the financial services industry is leading the way in blockchain research, with the ASX investing $50 million in a potential blockchain solution to replace its current equities settlement and clearing system.

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF BLOCKCHAIN FOR THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY?

For the clinical trials industry, the use of blockchain technology means that, instead of medical or clinical trial data sitting with a single entity (such as a contract research organisation conducting a clinical trial) and that entity being responsible for sharing the data with interested parties (such as the sponsor and the regulator), the same data set can be accessed and verified in real-time by all relevant parties.

In this way, blockchain technology can be used to increase the transparency and trustworthiness of clinical trial data. Using blockchain technology to capture and report on clinical trial data makes it nearly impossible for data to be selectively reported, altered or falsified. Using the blockchain also means that exactly the same live data set is visible to contract research organisations, sponsors, ethics committees and regulators alike. Versions of trial protocols can also be stored on the blockchain, so that all changes to that protocol can be time-stamped, tracked and verified.

For the broader medical industry, the blockchain may be a secure, reliable way to share patient information between providers. Currently, healthcare data is recorded in individual databases held by organisations or networks which means that large amounts of patient data is captured, but not shared. Implementing a universal, interoperable database for viewing patient data captured by multiple sources creates obvious opportunities for patient care (avoiding the need for patients to act as conduits between heathcare professionals and the medical industry). The blockchain can also be used for tracking the use of prescription medication by patients (as it could allow doctors to see (in real time) the medications that have been prescribed to a patient by other medical practitioners).

In general, patients and healthcare providers in Australia recognise the benefits that could be gained from the sharing of heath data, provided there is anonymity. A survey conducted by Research Australia in 2016 revealed over 90% of Australians were willing to share their de-identified health-related information to help advance medical research and improve patient care. Blockchain is one technology solution that could be used to allow such data to be securely shared.

The Productivity Commission's draft report into Data Availability and Use identified the health sector as a key industry in which opportunities to develop new products and services, enhance patient experiences and better inform decision-making were being foregone due to impediments around the sharing of health data. The use of blockchain technology may be one way in which these impediments can be overcome.

LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS

Use of blockchain technology in the healthcare industry raises obvious issues of privacy, security and patient consent. As identified by the Productivity Commission, near real-time data that identifies individual persons carries with it the highest risks to privacy and security.

Personally identifiable health data stored on the blockchain needs to be handled in accordance with the Privacy Act and applicable Health Records legislation. Blockchain systems will need to be designed in a manner which addresses these issues and ensures that data is appropriately encrypted and restricted, while maintaining the integrity of the system.

The storage and accessing of information on multiple computer systems also increases the possibility that patient data will be disclosed outside of Australia, meaning that users of a blockchain will need to ensure that patients are appropriately notified of (and, if required, patient consent is obtained to) the cross-border disclosure of data.

As noted, one of the attractions of a blockchain-based system is that once data is incorporated in the chain, a permanent record of that data is formed. However, what happens if there is then a legal requirement imposed that requires deletion of that data? For example, under the Victorian Health Records Act, Health Privacy Principle 4.5 requires certain organisations to take reasonable steps to destroy or permanently de-identify health information which is no longer needed for the purpose for which it was collected. If that data was held in a blockchain system, this would be technically difficult, but could also undermine one of the features of blockchain that makes it so attractive. Again, encryption and security protocols in any blockchain system will need to be designed to address this issue.

In its draft report into Data Availability and Use, the Productivity Commission described the risks associated with the increased sharing of data to be "real but manageable". The Productivity Commission is of the view that the difficulties associated with protecting the privacy and security of individuals can be managed through appropriate security frameworks and protocols (and should not be permitted to stand in the way of the enormous benefits that can be gained through the increased sharing of data). In its final report (which was presented to Parliament at the end of March, but which is yet to be publically released) the Productivity Commission is expected to recommend a new legislative framework to balance the privacy and other risks associated with increased access to data against the national interests associated with data sharing. If this framework is accepted by Parliament, this may pave the way for the increased use of blockchain technology in the Australian healthcare sector in the near future.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Chambers Asia Pacific Awards 2016 Winner – Australia
Client Service Award
Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (WGEA)

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.