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”

Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
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
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions