Keeping public health ahead of epidemics with blockchain
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Apr 19, 2019
The Food and Drug Administration is looking at the role blockchain can play in sharing health care data securely and effectively. Its Real-Time Application for Portable Interactive Devices (RAPID) is a cloud-based, customizable blockchain system designed to protect data and patients alike.
Developed by the Data Mining and Informatics Evaluation and Research (DMIER) team in the Office of Translational Sciences at FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and Booz Allen, RAPID uses Ethereumas -- a bidirectional communication system for mobile phones -- to get information on disease epidemics; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear events; and the medications to counter health care providers in real time, according to a NITAAC report.
During the swine flu epidemic of 2007, by comparison, hospitals and health care providers had to use a desktop computer-based system to access information on an experimental drug that FDA authorized use of before testing was complete.
“This meant that all of us had to read 6,000 reports that were 11 pages each … to get the information needed for drug safety,” Skip Francis, director of DMIER, said in a video about RAPID. “We determined to never do that again, so we ended up creating a system where a mobile phone would electronically send the information to us, we could read it in real time and then send something back to the report within 24 hours.”
RAPID’s system provides a 360-degree view of incidences, prevalence, location and clinical outcomes of medical treatments used during epidemics and chemical or biological disasters.
The development team chose blockchain “because it allowed for the seamless exchange of information without a central entity controlling or slowing down the dissemination of vital information,” the report stated. It also provides security and real-time information sharing among FDA, other federal agencies and participating hospitals.
“Blockchain enhances the number of sites that are able to collaborate and share information. Medically speaking, when you’re doing determinations of population problems, the more information you have, the better the determinations are,” Francis said.
Last year, FDA and Booz Allen ran a pilot test of how blockchain could help secure information sharing among the department, hospitals and health care providers.
“Our system is unique because it is designed specifically for our use case (data sharing across [electric health records] systems), enables user- and group-based data sharing, is fully containerized and deployable across multiple hospital IT infrastructures, and is designed as a platform solution utilizing a distributed microservice architecture that can be scaled depending on deployment requirements,” Marek Cyran, Booz Allen senior lead technologist, wrote in a paper about the project.
The project has been included in the National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center solutions showcase.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.