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ONC Announces Blockchain Health IT Challenge Winners

August 30, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has announced the winners of its “Use of Blockchain in Health IT and Health-related Research Challenge.”

As explained by ONC,—a blockchain, most commonly associated with digital currency—is a data structure that can be timed-stamped and signed using a private key to prevent tampering.  ONC received more than 70 submissions from a wide range of individuals, organizations and companies addressing ways that blockchain technology might be used in health and health IT to protect, manage, and exchange electronic health information. The challenge involved soliciting white papers on the topic of the use of blockchain technology in healthcare.

ONC said it selected the winning papers based on several factors, including the papers’ proposed solutions or recommendations for market viability; creativity; ability to inform and foster transformative change; and potential to support a number of national health and health information objectives, including advancing the flow of health information for where and when it is needed most.

 “We are thrilled by the incredible amount of interest in this challenge,” said Vindell Washington, M.D., National Coordinator for Health IT. “While many know about blockchain technology’s uses for digital currency purposes, the challenge submissions show its exciting potential for new, innovative uses in healthcare.”

The final winners can be viewed here.

Last month, David Raths, Healthcare Informatics Senior Contributing Editor, wrote a story in which he asked Micah Winkelspecht, founder and CEO of Gem, a Venice, Calif.-based startup developing blockchain application platforms, if blockchain has a future in healthcare.

Winkelspecht said that while there would certainly be challenges to overcome, there is potential for its application in healthcare due to there being a “major push toward a more patient-centric focus in healthcare,” despite data being “stored all over the place in kind of a Frankenstein concoction of records with very little interoperability of file formats between systems.” Winkelspecht added that his company is working on a project with Philips in which the idea is “not meant to replace EHRs,” but explore the ways in which real-time access to data across multiple providers and caregivers can be provided. “We are looking at how we move medical-related data on a blockchain,” he said.

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