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Health IT interoperability has been an elusive goal, with silos between hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and payers making exchange of information difficult. Vanderbilt engineers have successfully developed and validated the feasibility of blockchain-based technologies for secure, confidential sharing of patient medical records in a case study that demonstrates how blockchain could solve a huge healthcare challenge.

Vanderbilt engineers have successfully developed and validated the feasibility of blockchain-based technologies for secure, confidential sharing of patient medical records in a case study that demonstrates how blockchain could solve a huge healthcare challenge.

Health IT interoperability has been an elusive goal, with data silos between hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and payers making exchange of information difficult. The Vanderbilt case study shows how blockchain tech could securely streamline the process.

Significantly, researchers also are partnering with a Nashville that plans to use blockchain technology to tackle the nation’s opioid addiction crises.

Vanderbilt says that these developments are part of a larger effort at Vanderbilt’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems to approach the problems and promise of blockchain in a holistic way. Researchers have created a range of significant capabilities, including an architecture that supports secure information access to design standards for best practices, mathematical verification that the underlying code is correct, and a test bed for researchers to try out their ideas.

In addition to healthcare, they are working on blockchain test cases with smart, connected cities, power grid applications, and supplier risk management.

“A few years ago people thought blockchain technologies would solve every imaginable problem,” said Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Engineering Douglas C. Schmidt. “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.”

Beyond the hype and high Bitcoin prices, conventional blockchain technology has been problematic for widespread applications. Its technical foundation has been around for decades, based on the concept of a public, distributed ledger. The underlying code itself is buggy and the conventional model doesn’t support large volumes of transactions with stringent time constraints.

But the potential power of blockchain technology in healthcare—particularly sharing of patient data to support more timely diagnosis and treatment—is getting closer.

Sharing medical data without an intermediary
The case study, which involved a rural hospital tumor board, as well as the blockchain architecture supporting that secure information exchange are in the team’s paper, “FHIRChain: Applying Blockchain to Securely and Scalably Share Clinical Data.” It is available as a preprint and has been submitted to the Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal.

Researchers from Vanderbilt and Varian Medical Systems evaluated FHIRChain, as they dubbed the technology. Pronounced as “fire,” FHIR stands for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources.

Their goal was to design a blockchain-based system



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