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Illinois Aims to Put Baby’s First Health Data on the Blockchain

Babies born in Illinois may soon have their birth certificates stored on the blockchain, which could offer a new way to manage health data throughout their lives.

Blockchain and health data

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Babies born in Illinois may soon have one of their foundational health documents stored on the blockchain. 

The state, which is taking the lead in exploring the use of blockchain for healthcare-related issues such as provider identity management, has booted up a pilot to integrate the distributed leger technology into the birth registration process.

“To structurally address the many issues surrounding digital identity, we felt it was important to develop a framework that examines identity from its inception at child birth,” said Jennifer O’Rourke, Blockchain Business Liaison for the Illinois Blockchain Initiative.

“Government has an important role to play in the development of any digital identity ecosystem. Identity is not only foundational to nearly every government service, but is the basis for trust and legitimacy in the public sector.”

Starting a blockchain-based identity management process at birth may have long-term implications for how an individual’s health data is stored, shared, and protected throughout his or her lifetime. 

READ MORE: Is Blockchain the Answer to Healthcare’s Big Data Problems?

While still a very new concept for the healthcare industry and not yet in significant use within the care continuum, blockchain has been suggested as a way to implement secure identity management techniques that keep patients at the center of how their health data is shared and utilized.

In contrast to current electronic health records, which require each unique healthcare provider to recreate a patient’s entire health history in-house, blockchain theoretically allows patients to simply approve new providers for access to their existing, verified, and unified record. 

This may prevent many of the gaps in data that impact patient safety and decision-making while leapfrogging EHR interoperability concerns and reducing the likelihood of patient matching errors, transcription or duplication mistakes, and data breaches.

The pilot, conducted in partnership with Evernym, will experiment with creating “verifiable claims” or attributes for newborns, including legal name, date of birth, and blood type, all of which will be cryptographically secured into the individual’s identity.

Each attribute will only be accessible with the legal guardian’s explicit permission, which will presumably transfer to the individual upon becoming an adult.

READ MORE: Top 4 Ways to Use Blockchain for Healthcare Data Management

“The successful transition to an identity ecosystem that is truly self-sovereign requires conversion of ‘breeder documents’, such as birth certificates, which serve as the basis for obtaining other documents,” said Evernym Chief Trust Officer Drummond Reed.

“Digitizing these foundational documents in a state the size and importance of Illinois will make a major contribution to the larger effort of solving the online identity problem.”

Using this methodology, businesses, governments, financial institutions, healthcare providers, or other entities may be able to authenticate individuals more easily in the future, added Cab Morris of the Illinois Blockchain Initiative.

“This architecture allows us to bridge the best of both worlds, combining government’s robust infrastructure for identity verification with a platform engineered for the digital identity ecosystem.  This digital identity system is extensible, interoperable and at the same time ensures the utmost security, privacy and user-agency.”

The pilot follows an August partnership with Hashed Health, a healthcare-specific blockchain consortium, which is geared towards creating unified and secure healthcare credential and licensure identities for practitioners.

READ MORE: Could Blockchain Control Population Health Management Costs?

“Blockchain and distributed ledger technology have the potential to revolutionize the delivery of public and private services, redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data transparency and trust, and make a leading contribution to Illinois’ efforts towards digital transformation,” said Hashed Health CEO John Bass at the time.

The initiative plans to give providers control over their licensing and credentialing records, which may reduce the challenges of tracking individuals as they move between different organizations, receive permissions to practice at multiple institutions, or seek new employment.

The partners also envision a simpler process of managing interstate licensure, which can be confusing and cumbersome for providers and organizations looking to employ individuals with certifications in multiple jurisdictions.

“In the short-term we anticipate this pilot will show how distributed ledger technology can help reduce the complexity of interstate licensing processes in Illinois,” said Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) Secretary Bryan Schneider.

“In the long-term, we see this as a secure, privacy-enhancing way in which state licensure boards can efficiently manage credentialing at national scale, while also presenting health payers and provider networks a ‘single source-of-truth’ to improve the veracity of provider directories and claims adjudication processes.”

Illinois is one of the few regional governments taking an aggressive approach to cultivating blockchain as a way to provide identity management for its citizens. 

In 2016, the state issued a request for information that asks for public input on how to use blockchain for a variety of projects, including voter registration, criminal histories, and motor vehicle licensing, as well as social insurance programs such as SNAP, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The provider credential management program – and now the birth registration pilot – are the first steps towards creating a blockchain-based ecosystem for the region, O’Rourke stated.

“Illinois is committed to moving beyond the much-discussed promise of distributed ledger technologies. With this [provider identity management] pilot we plan to bring tangible solutions that solve real problems,” she said.

“We are excited to explore how distributed ledger technology can improve current bottlenecks in the medical licensing process and hope to share our learnings with other state boards and entities interested in collaborating on this project going forward.”

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