CDC tests blockchain for outbreak response

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking to use a blockchain layer to gather health workers' data from siloed systems to speed their deployment.

Before sending responders into crisis zones, CDC needs to find health workers with the right qualifications and review their medical clearances, vaccinations, passport and visas.  The deployment approval process pulls data from different CDC centers that have  siloed -- and sometimes conflicting -- versions of data, which can significantly slow down the process.

“When we have different copies of data in different places, we don’t trust the data since we don’t know which one is the accurate one,” said Sachiko Kuwabara, director of the CDC's Office of Risk Management, at an Oct. 30 FCW blockchain event. “We end up with multiple systems trying to check to see if the other systems are correct.”

To help make these systems talk to each other, Kuwabara said her office is testing whether  blockchain can help make these disparate systems talk to each other.  With its immutable record of all transactions with the data, the distributed ledger technology makes it easier to see if there are changes and mistakes in the data.

The blockchain proof of concept pulls together relevant data that's scattered across the CDC enterprise. “Every node or individual on that node or distributed ecosystem gets a copy of the data in the form of a ledger at exactly the same time,” Kuwabara said. “We are working with the same data, which reduces the need for reconciliation, and it also starts to get these systems talking to each other.”

The CDC uses the Hyperledger Fabric framework, which allows microservices to be built atop the blockchain layer, so CDC can test the technology without putting any other systems development on hold.

“We need to be able to continue to do business and operate as we have been but also modernize,” Kuwabara said. The proof of concept should be completed by the middle of December, she said. 

The CDC’s National Center of Health Statistics is also looking to use distributed ledger technology to securely collect data from electronic health records for the agency’s reports and surveys.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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