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Google’s DeepMind Rolling Out Bitcoin-Like Health Record Tracking To Hospitals

Posted on May 8, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Blockchain technology is gradually becoming part of how we think about healthcare data. Even government entities like the ONC and FDA – typically not early adopters – are throwing their hat into the blockchain ring.

In fact, according to recent research by Deloitte, healthcare and life sciences companies are planning the most aggressive blockchain deployments of any industry. Thirty-five percent of Deloitte’s respondents told the consulting firm that they expected to put blockchain into production this year.

Many companies are tackling the practical uses of blockchain tech in healthcare. But to me, few are more interesting than Google’s DeepMind, a hot new AI firm based in the UK acquired by Google a few years ago.

DeepMind has already signed an agreement with a branch of Britain’s National Health Trust, under which it will access patient data in the development healthcare app named Streams. Now, it’s launching a new project in partnership with the NHS, in which it will use a new technology based on bitcoin to let hospitals, the NHS and over time, patients track what happens to personal health data.

The new technology, known as “Verifiable Data Audit,” will create a specialized digital ledger which automatically records every time someone touches patient data, according to British newspaper The Guardian.

In a blog entry, DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman notes that the system will track not only that the data was used, but also why. In addition, the ledger supporting the audit will be set to append-only, so once the system records an activity, that record can’t be erased.

The technology differs from existing blockchain models in some important ways, however. For one thing, unlike in other blockchain models, Verifiable Data Audit won’t rely on decentralized ledger verification of a broad set of participants. The developers have assumed that trusted institutions like hospitals can be relied on to verify ledger records.

Another way in which the new technology is different is that it doesn’t use a chain infrastructure. Instead, it’s using a mathematical function known as a Merkle tree. Every time the system adds an entry to the ledger, it generates a cryptographic hash summarizing not only that latest ledger entry, but also the previous ledger values.

DeepMind is also providing a dedicated online interface which participating hospitals can use to review the audit trail compiled by the system, in real-time. In the future, the company hopes to make automated queries which would “sound the alarm” if data appeared to be compromised.

Though DeepMind does expect to give patients direct oversight over how, where and why their data has been used, they don’t expect that to happen for some time, as it’s not yet clear how to secure such access. In the mean time, participating hospitals are getting a taste of the future, one in which patients will ultimate control access to their health data assets.

Cleveland Clinic Works To Eliminate Tech Redundancies

Posted on March 1, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

The Cleveland Clinic has relied on its EMR for quite some time. In fact, it adopted Epic in the 1990s, long before most healthcare organizations were ready to make a bet on EMRs. Today, decades later, the Epic EMR is the “central data hub” for the medical center and is central to both its clinical and operational efforts, according to William Morris, MD, the Clinic’s associate chief information officer.

But Morris, who spoke about the Clinic’s health IT with Health Data Management, also knows its limitations. In an interview with the magazine’s Greg Slabodkin, he notes that while the EMR may be necessary, it isn’t sufficient. The Epic EMR is “just a digital repository,” he told Slabodkin. “Ultimately, it’s what you do with the technology in your ecosystem.”

These days, IT leaders at the Clinic are working to streamline the layers of additional technology which have accreted on top of the EMR over the years. “As an early adopter of Epic, we have accumulated quite a bit of what I’ll call technical debt,” said Doug Smith, interim chief information officer. “What I mean by that is multiple enhancements, bolt-ons, or revisions to the core application. We have to unburden ourselves of that.”

It’s not that Clinic leaders are unhappy with their EMR. In fact, they’re finding ways to tap its power to improve care. For example, to better leverage its EMR data, the Cleveland Clinic has developed data-driven “risk scores” designed to let doctors know if patients need intervention. The models, developed by the Clinic’s Quantitative Health Sciences group, offer outcome risk calculators for several conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

(By the way, if predictive analytics interest you, you might want to check out our coverage of such efforts at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, which is developing a platform to predict which patients might develop congestive heart failure and care for patients already diagnosed with the condition more effectively. I’ve also taken a look at a related product being developed by Google’s DeepMind, an app named Streams which will ping clinicians if a patient needs extra attention.)

Ultimately, though, the organization hopes to simplify its larger health IT infrastructure substantially, to the point where 85% of the HIT functionality comes from the core Epic system. This includes keeping a wary eye on Epic upgrades, and implementing new features selectively. “When you take an upgrade in Epic, they are always turning on more features and functions,” Smith notes. “Most are optional.”

Not only will such improvements streamline IT operations, they will make clinicians more efficient, Smith says. “They are adopting standard workflows that also exist in many other organizations—and, we’re more efficient in supporting it because we don’t take as long to validate or support an upgrade.”

As an aside, I’m interested to read that Epic is tossing more features at Cleveland Clinic than it cares to adopt. I wonder if those are what engineers think customers want, or what they’re demanding today?