As hospitals adjust to the new Health and Human Services (HHS) platform called the Coronavirus Data Hub to report critical Covid-19 information, HHS Chief Information Officer José L. Arrieta confirmed that the agency is using blockchain technology to track Covid-19 hospitalization data. In an interview today, Arrieta stated how this will “allow for faster clinical trials, protect citizens and flatten the curve on this pandemic, so we can recover from this pandemic using blockchain technology, a distributed ledger technology.”
Earlier this week, Arrieta noted how HHS Protect, a platform for authenticating data, is more comprehensive than that previously provided by the CDC. “At HHS Protect, every day, every data element we receive is hashed with a time-stamped record of the parcing and curation and sharing of that data element.” Arrieta, who is well-known for championing the benefits of blockchain technology within the U.S. Government, explained blockchain will ensure the data for Covid-19 hospitalizations is accurate and traceable.
Arrieta confirmed that the blockchain system being used with HHS Protect is an enterprise version similar to those supported by the Hyperledger organization and companies such as IBM
“The blockchain HHS uses is not the blockchain of the anarchists and disruptors, but rather as a fresh step forward where thousands of users on the platform are accessing data sets,” stated Arrieta. According to the CIO, HHS Protect coordinates data from 6,200 hospitals across the United States, including numbers of ventilators, hospital beds, ER admittance, and discharge, lab test data across the U.S., warehouse implications, and nursing home data.
As a result of using blockchain technology with HHS Protect, the U.S. government can now, as Arrieta explained, “share with the general public how the results were generated because you have a record that is immutable.” Exactly how this would be accessed is unclear.
He added: “Science is about proving something and then sharing the steps of how you proved it. Creating time-stamps in an immutable record is truly empowering and allows for complete transparency from a data perspective.” Arrieta noted blockchain technology will enable HHS to, “allow clinical trials faster, protect citizens better, and best allow the country to recover from this pandemic.”
Asked if he believed the move of Covid-19 data from the CDC to HHS with the data protected by blockchain technology should provide more comfort to Americans about the accuracy of the data provided, Arrieta responded, “Absolutely, this is extremely important. Americans now have a public record of how the data was received with time-stamped steps where people have access to the data elements. It is important to note that the CDC, HHS, providers, and the American public are able to see the data element at the exact moment it was shared as a result of blockchain technology.”
As reported by ABC News, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield forcefully defended the change in a call with reporters, insisting that the federal government’s effort to create a single database run by HHS – linking an estimated 4 billion disparate data elements on everything from testing to the race and ethnicity of patients to hospital supplies and bed space — instead of through the CDC — can only help the CDC’s efforts.
According to Arrieta, for something as critical as Covid-19 data, trust and transparency is needed for data in real-time with large data sets, which the blockchain provides. “With this technology, we are able to do it and I am super excited,” says Arrieta.
While at the General Services Administration (GSA), Arrieta helped build from the ground up a blockchain working group that meets weekly and still meets every Friday. This working group, run by the the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council, (ACT-IAC), a non-profit public-private partnership dedicated to improving government, has helped develop a blockchain playbook that U.S. agencies can use to in determining if blockchain should be used for a particular use case and how to implement the technology.
The group allows for an ongoing dialogue between government and industry on ways of adopting blockchain technology. From the European Union to China, the entire world increasingly seems to be increasingly seeing this technology as the next version of the World Wide Web, or Web 3.0, and is racing to adopt it.
Prior to today, there was no highly visible blockchain technology being used by the U.S. Government, causing a general concern that America was falling behind China and others in the blockchain race. However, the confirmation today of the technology’s application to Covid-19 to help reduce the rate the virus spreads, or “flatten the curve,” as it is widely described, will likely show the U.S. is turning a corner on the technology at a critical time in our history.
Arrieta, in his current role as the CIO at HHS, had previously noted, back in January, that the HHS Accelerate program, focused on using the technology to streamline and improve the procurement process, will save HHS “somewhere around $33 to $40 million” over the next five years. However, HHS Protect was an opportunity to use the technology for its true purpose, says. “The core for this technology is around sharing and transparency, using hashes and time series and being able to share the data with the integrity to allow the American public to ensure the underlying data is accurate,” he says.
According to Arrieta, blockchain will be the “anchor in the marketplace, at an individual, company, agency, and national level. The technology is transformative and how it is used takes time,” he says.. While saving taxpayer money was a good achievement with HHS Accelerate, Arrieta believes, “the use of blockchain with Covid-19 will be truly impactful in demonstrating the usefulness of this key new technology.”