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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.

National Health Service Hospitals Use Data Integration Apps

Posted on February 20, 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.

While many providers in the US are still struggling with selecting and deploying apps, the UK National Health Service trusts are ready to use them to collect vital data.

According to the New Scientist, the four National Health Services serving the United Kingdom are rolling out two apps which help patients monitor their health at home. Both of the apps, which are being tested at four hospitals in Oxfordshire, UK, focus on management of a disease state.

One, called GDm-health, helps manage the treatment of gestational diabetes, which affects one in 10 pregnant women. Women use the app to send each of their blood glucose readings to the clinician monitoring their diabetes. The Oxford University Institute of Biomedical Engineering led development of the app, which has allowed patients to avoid needless in-person visits. In fact, the number of patient visits has dropped by 25%, the article notes.

The other app, which was also developed by the Institute, helps patients manage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which affects between 1 million and 1.5 million UK patients. COPD patients check their heart rate and blood oxygen saturation every day, entering each result into the app.

After collecting three months of measurements, the app “learns” to recognize what a normal oxygen sat level is for that patient. Because it has data on what is normal for that patient, it will neither alert clinicians too often nor ignore potential problems. During initial use the app, which already been through a 12-month clinical trial, cut hospital admissions among this population by 17% and general practitioner visits by 40%.

NHS leaders are also preparing to launch a third app soon. The technology, which is known as SEND, is an iPad app designed to collect information on hospital patients. As they make their rounds, nurses will use the app to input data on patients’ vital signs. The system then automatically produces an early warning score for each patient, and provides an alert if the patient’s health may be deteriorating.

One might think that because UK healthcare is delivered by centralized Trusts, providers there don’t face data-sharing problems in integrating data from apps like these. But apparently, we would be wrong. According to Rury Holman of the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, who spoke with New Scientist, few apps are designed to work with NHS’ existing IT systems.

“It’s a bit like the Wild West out there with lots of keen and very motivated people producing these apps,” he told the publication. “What we need are consistent standards and an interface with electronic patient records, particularly with the NHS, so that information, with permission from the patients, can be put to use centrally.”

In other words, even in a system providing government-delivered, ostensibly integrated healthcare, it’s still hard to manage data sharing effectively. Guess we shouldn’t feel too bad about the issues we face here in the US.