ONC Kicks Off Blockchain Whitepaper Contest

Posted on July 11, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Hold onto your hats, folks. The ONC has taken an official interest in blockchain technology, a move which suggests that it’s becoming a more mainstream technology in healthcare.

As you may know, blockchain is the backbone for the somewhat shadowy world of bitcoin, a “cryptocurrency” whose users can’t be traced. (For some of you, your first introduction to cryptocurrency may have been when a Hollywood, CA hospitals was forced to pay off ransomware demands with $17K in bitcoins.)

But despite its use by criminals, blockchain still has great potential for creating breakthroughs for legitimate businesses, notably banking and healthcare. Look at dispassionately, a blockchain is just a distributed database, one which maintains a continuously growing list with data records hardened against tampering and revision.

Right now, the most common use the blockchain is to serve as a public ledger of bitcoin transactions. But the concept is bubbling up in the healthcare world, with some even suggesting that blockchain should be used to tackle health data security problems.

And now, the ONC has shown interest in this technology, soliciting white papers that offer thoughtful take on how blockchain can help meet important healthcare industry objectives.

The whitepaper, which may not be no longer than 10 pages, must be submitted by July 29. (Want to participate, but don’t have time to write the paper yourself? Click here.Papers must discuss the cryptography and underlying fundamentals of blockchain technology, explain how the use of blockchain can meet industry interoperability needs, patient centered outcomes research, precision medicine and other healthcare delivery needs, as well as offering recommendations for blockchain’s implementation.

The ONC will choose eight winning papers from among the submissions. Winning authors will have an opportunity to present the paper at a Blockchain & Healthcare Workshop held at NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, MD on September 26th and 27th.

In hosting this contest, ONC is lending blockchain approaches in healthcare a level of credibility they might not have had in the past. But there’s already a lot of discussion going on about blockchain applications for health IT.

So what are people talking about where blockchain IT is concerned? In one LinkedIn piece, consultant Peter Nichol argues that blockchain can address concerns around scalability and privacy electronic medical records. He also suggests that blockchain technology can provide patients with more sophisticated privacy control of their personal health information, for example, providers can enhance health data security by letting patients combine their own blockchain signature with a hospital’s signature.

But obviously, ONC leaders think there’s a lot more that can be done here. And I’m pretty confident that they’re right. While I’m no security or cryptocurrency expert, I know that when a technology has been kicked around for several years, and used for a sensitive function like financial exchange without racking up any major failures, it’s got to be pretty solid. I’m eager to see what people come up with!