Vanderbilt develops blockchain tech for medical record sharing

A team of engineers from Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University developed a method of sharing medical records between healthcare organizations using blockchain.

The Vanderbilt researchers, along with collaborators from radiation oncology treatment and software developer Varian Medical Systems, dubbed their blockchain-based technology FHIRChain, in reference to their use of the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources standards framework.

Blockchain represents a permanent distributed ledger of online transactions or exchanges. Unlike a traditional database that is centrally located and maintained by one party — such as an EHR vendor — a blockchain record is shared among a network of users.

With FHIRChain, patient data never leaves its originating hospital. When a patient wants to share his or her data with an outside organization, the hospital would provide select physicians or clinics with a public and private key to access the patient's health information for a set period of time.

"Think of [the blockchain system as] password reset emails that require action within 24 hours," Vanderbilt officials wrote in a June 22 statement.

The case study is part of an ongoing blockchain effort at the university's Institute for Software Integrated Systems, which tests blockchain feasibility in a range of sectors, including smart cities, power grid applications and supplier risk management.

"A few years ago people thought blockchain technologies would solve every imaginable problem," Douglas C. Schmidt, PhD, chair of Vanderbilt's computer science and engineering department and professor of computer science, said in the June 22 statement. "People are realizing that this goal is simply not realistic and are now looking more carefully at when and where these technologies might be useful."

The engineers validated the feasibility of their blockchain system in a recent case study, which they submitted to the Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal. To access a preprint of the study findings, click here.

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