HIMSS21: ConsenSys Health acquires FHIRBlocks, eyes blockchain technology for clinical trial recruitment

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The integration of ConsenSys Health's technology with the capabilities that underpin the FHIRBlocks Consent4Health application will bolster the platform’s patient-centric privacy capabilities, allowing frictionless sharing of confidential healthcare data, company executives said. (LuckyStep48/Getty Images)

Healthcare blockchain company ConsenSys has picked up FHIRBlocks to bolster its data-sharing capabilities as federal regulations open up patient access to medical records.

Announced during the 2021 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Global Conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, ConsenSys plans to integrate FHIRBlocks' technology into its Elevated Compute platform that leverages blockchain, decentralized artificial intelligence and confidential computing for healthcare and life sciences companies. 

FHIRBlocks developed decentralized consent technology, and its Consent4Health platform enables consumer-directed sharing of their electronic health information, typically spread across a patient’s many healthcare provider-based electronic health records. The application provides patients fine-grained control to direct their health sharing choices, according to the company.

The application leverages Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) application programming interfaces and decentralized technology constructs, including self-sovereign identity built upon W3C verifiable credential formats. It is currently available as a service offering in Microsoft’s Azure Marketplace. 

The acquisition includes the transfer of FHIRBlocks’ technological and other intellectual property—as well as key executives and staff, business activities and relationships—to ConsenSys Health.

Financial details of the transaction, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter, were not disclosed. 

FHIRBlocks launched in 2016 to enable sharing of health information to achieve improved health outcomes while ensuring patient control and privacy are maintained.

Fine-grained consent management is a precursor to patients’ right to access and share their personal health information. To date, cumbersome, slow and error-prone manual processes have largely been used to do this, but the introduction of digital communications using FHIR for data interoperability has shown clear benefits and is now mandated by regulations such as the U.S. 21st Century Cures Act.

Patient and consumer privacy regulations, such as HIPAA, GDPR and CCPA, are also mandating new processes.

"This acquisition accelerates our time to market for a number of applications through the integration of best-of-breed technology," said Heather Flannery, founder and CEO of ConsenSys Health, in a statement.

ConsenSys Health was spun off from ConsenSys, one of the world's largest blockchain companies, in 2020. The company developed its Elevate Compute technology by combining blockchain, AI and confidential computing to move the industry toward federated health data and help target chronic healthcare and life sciences pain points. 

"We are absolutely fans of blockchain, but we recognize that it is necessary but not sufficient for transforming these industries towards patient-centric health. Additional technologies are required to achieve that, and Elevated Compute is the complete toolbox," said Flannery in a statement when the platform was introduced earlier this year.

The integration of ConsenSys Health's technology with the capabilities that underpin the FHIRBlocks Consent4Health application will bolster the platform’s patient-centric privacy capabilities, allowing frictionless sharing of confidential healthcare data—empowering “liquid data”—between healthcare market participants, company executives said.

“While the unique identity and patient consent functionality of Consent4Health positions it as a leading solution in its own right, we have determined that it will have a greater impact and utility for customers as a differentiating feature within the more comprehensive Elevated Compute digital health ecosystem," said FHIRBlocks co-founder and CEO Doug Bulleit.

As a result of the acquisition, Bulleit will join ConsenSys Health as a senior member of management. 

ConsenSys Health also is making strides to apply blockchain technology to advance clinical trial recruitment. 

In partnership with Intel, the company is using blockchain-based data security to conduct research into making clinical trial recruitment more efficient and equitable.

Clinical trial recruitment is expensive, inefficient and time-consuming. As COVID-19 therapeutics move through fast-tracked research pipelines and into clinical trials, it is critical to effectively recruit patients—including those from more vulnerable populations who consistently battle inequities in access to care—into those trials while protecting patient privacy.

ConsenSys Health and a large pharmaceutical company researched a privacy-preserving blockchain-orchestrated federated computing approach to clinical trial matching. Processing electronic health record data was considerably faster with hardware-enhanced security using ConsenSys Health’s platform compared to previous systems, according to executives.

The company believes the benefits of this privacy-preserving approach can be applied across the global pharmaceutical industry to improve patient matching for clinical trials and accelerate treatment discoveries.