Healthcare, retail industries give blockchain a try

Moving beyond its roots with bitcoin, blockchain gets a tryout in industries where it may have the potential to evolve or disrupt standard practices.

Blockchain logo at the center of an influx of floating cubes of digital technology
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services hopes to put a new technology to use in its ongoing effort to improve the health and well-being of Americans. The technology in question isn't something one might expect to see in the healthcare IT toolkit; rather, it's blockchain, the technology that underpins cryptocurrency and has primarily been associated with bitcoin. HHS sees blockchain as a potential salve for ills that plague the increasingly complex world of digital health records.

Earlier this year, in a competition called the Blockchain Challenge, the HHS's Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) solicited ideas on how blockchain could be used to protect, manage and exchange medical information. The challenge drew 70 white papers submitted by individuals, organizations and companies, and the ONC chose 15 winners from that group.

"We've seen a lot of interest in the blockchain, and we thought it was time to get past the hype," says Debbie Bucci, an IT specialist at the ONC who focuses on emerging technologies.

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