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CDC, IBM Announce Research Partnership Focused On Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence

In what we imagine will become one of the most quickly realized use-cases for blockchain technology, the CDC and IBM have partnered to research how the former can develop a blockchain-based system to allow health-care providers to more easily share information about individual patients, and data about burgeoning pandemics.

Since finding new possible applications for blockchain seemingly became the obsession of a legion of entrepreneurs and corporate technology chiefs in recent years, its potential to revolutionize the storage and dissemination of health records has received quite a bit of attention.

While the partnership will focus on developing the technology for use by the federal government, the research will help aid in the creation of health-care solutions for the private market, said IBM’s chief science officer, Shahram Ebadollahi. Ebadollahi made the announcement alongside IBM’s chief health officer, Kyu Rhee, during Watson Health’s panel discussion at the Fast Company Innovation Festival.

And by combining blockchain technology with breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, the creation of home units that perform diagnostic functions in lieu of a doctor may not be far off.

Rhee said he believes AI applications in healthcare will eventually enable consumers to purchase a home health system as easily as they can now acquire a home security system. “Think about where we were with the internet in 1993,” he said. “That’s about where we are today with AI.”

Rhee and Ebadollahi explained what many health insurers and health-care providers have already acknowledged: That blockchain is particularly well suited for sharing a patient’s sensitive medical records among multiple providers. Considering that most medical practices still store patient information in a paper chart that isn’t easily shared, many have identified medical records as an area ripe for blockchain disruption.

“Blockchain is very useful when there are so many actors in the system,” Ebadollahi said. “It enables the ecosystem of data in healthcare to have more fluidity, and AI allows us to extract insights from the data. Everybody talks about Big Data in healthcare but I think the more important thing is Long Data.”

As Rhee, who began his career practicing pediatric medicine, said healthcare professionals are swamped by data. “There are more than 8,000 healthcare publications each day,” he said.

“Nobody can keep up. We need a system to translate all the data into key insights that can be applied to a patient, and that’s where AI systems can support a clinician.”

And the security features of blockchain technology make it particularly well suited for storing sensitive health records.

“Privacy and security come first,” Rhee said. “Patients own their data, and you can’t share data with people you don’t trust.”

Of course, AI's potential stretches far beyond the health-care industry.

“When a bunch of physicists collaborated and created this thing called the World Wide Web a few decades ago, nobody imagined Facebook and Google and Amazon,” he said. “With blockchain we can collect data and extract insights through AI, and the future will have an economy around that we can hardly even imagine right now.”

However, anybody who expects these breakthroughs to arrive in the near term should probably reconsider. As we recently reported, some experts believe the hype surrounding AI and machine learnings is rapidly approach the “peak of inflated expectations..."

...And as AI evangelists recognize that the technology could take decades to develop,  public expectations will soon move toward  the “trough of disillusionment."