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Department of Health trials secure blockchain-based health research project

28 May 2018

A blockchain-based platform for the Department of Health (DoH) may be the first implementation of blockchain in the federal government, as it seeks to ensure medical research data stays protected.

The proof-of-concept was designed by ASD-certified ‘protected’ cloud provider Vault and software company Agile Digital.

The two firms worked together to create what they describe as a ‘first of its kind, privacy-centric proof of concept platform’ for the department.

The proof of concept is understood to be the first practical blockchain application in the federal government.

The DoH was looking for a platform that could give scientists access to medical data for research purposes, while also preventing that data from being re-identified to patients.

The DoH also needed the ability to restrict access or ban researchers that attempt to re-identify patient data.

According to Vault Systems founder and CEO Rupert Taylor-Price, Australians deserve data security as a right, particularly in the case of medical records.

He believes the project is a big step forward to achieving citizen data privacy and data science experimentation on consented Australian data.

“Future medical breakthroughs could very well hang on finding a way to balance the use of citizen’s medical data for science while still guaranteeing strict data privacy as a priority,” he says.

“By capitalising on blockchain technology and ASD Certified ‘Protected’ cloud, the Australian Government will possess the capability to support ‘big data’ analysis on sensitive datasets for breakthrough research, while still complying with the Australian Government’s privacy and security standards.”

The project demonstrated that the platform could notarise which researcher conducted data science experiments, what data was ‘touched’ by their experiments, and what aggregate results they received from their analysis.

According to Agile Digital and Vault Systems, the project will also allow health researchers to collaborate while claiming credit for their own hypotheses and results.

“This initiative allowed the Department of Health to demonstrate that data science experiments can be managed by a research platform that ensures individual patient records don’t need to be released to researchers. By intermediating all access to health records it was also able to ensure that inappropriate behaviour, such as attempts to identify individuals, is very difficult to carry out and easy to detect.”

Agile Digital and Vault Systems also scooped the iAward for Big Data Innovation at the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) ACT Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony.

Their proof of concept was recognised for ‘demonstrating a privacy-centric Proof of Concept platform which would allow approved health scientists to collaborate on public health research while ensuring patient privacy’.

AIIA chief executive officer Rob Fitzpatrick adds that the project between the Department of Health, Agile Digital, Gulanga, and Vault Systems shows how synergy between organisations can have a ‘sizeable’ impact on security and research.

Agile Digital executive director David Elliot adds that the project leveraged blockchain and Vault Systems secure cloud to ensure that personal records never leave secure storage.

“This approach can play a vital role in ensuring publicly funded researchers are able to draw scientific value from sensitive datasets, without needing access to individual records.”

The Proof-of-Concept platform is now also being considered by other government agencies in unlocking research value from sensitive datasets beyond the health portfolio.

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