IBM Watson Health to launch blockchain-powered Digital Health Pass


IBM Watson Health announced the launch of an IBM Digital Health Pass to help organizations enable individuals to return to work or school. The tool is built on IBM blockchain technology aimed at allowing users to share their verified health pass – established on criteria such as COVID-19 test results – without exposing the data used to generate it, according to the organization.

“We believe that trust and transparency remain paramount when developing a platform like a digital health passport, or any solution that handles sensitive personal information, and we remain committed to this philosophy as we continue to build solutions to help support organizations during the current public health crisis,” said Eric Piscini, vice president of blockchain at IBM Watson Health, in a statement.

As technology-enabled testing and tracing capability has ramped up throughout the United States, companies have begun to explore the possibility of relying on digital mechanisms to ease individuals’ return to public life.

“The shift back to public spaces is a slow journey at best,” said Paul Roma, general manager, IBM Watson Health, at the HLTH VRTL 2020 conference.

“In order for us to get back to the activities we love … we’ll need new innovations, new approaches and new technologies.”

The Digital Health Pass, said company representatives, is one such tool, aimed at streamlining users’ ability to travel or work while safeguarding their privacy and health.

According to the IBM website, users manage their information through an encrypted digital wallet on their smartphone and control what they share, while organizations can determine responses for health statuses and design business rules.

When health data becomes available, individuals can scan a QR code and add that information to a digital wallet. The data is stored by that individual and not by those organizations requesting health statuses. Individuals could, for example, share their vaccination records but not their health status.

The health pass is verified against the blockchain to confirm authenticity and validity.

“Because organizations may tailor the criteria of the health status, an individual’s health status may vary from place to place. For example, an airline may have a more stringent system for establishing wellness status for passengers boarding a plane than a restaurant may have for diners seeking outdoor seating,” explained Piscini in a blog.

This past week, trials began for CommonPass, a digital health passport that would allow travelers to document their COVID-19 status electronically and present it when they board a plane or cross a border.

“Partners across the globe are looking for sustainable solutions to keep travel healthy, responsible and safe,” said Dr. Martin Cetron, the director of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement last week.

“CDC is eager to learn from the CommonPass pilot, as it could be one of the many potential tools that may one day contribute to a safe, responsible and healthy global air travel experience,” Cetron continued.

Of course, companies must contend with the public perception of digital health passes – and, relatedly, COVID-19-tracking apps. According to a June study, most Americans say they won’t use COVID-19-tracing apps out of fear for their data.

Furthermore, a negative COVID-19 test does not guarantee that an individual is not currently contagious, nor does a normal temperature reading.


“There is an emerging opportunity to help organizations as they aim to bring individuals back to their public spaces,” said Roma in a statement.

“Organizations are looking for solutions that can help them manage the return of individuals to public places, while striving to protect their privacy. We are developing the IBM Digital Health Pass with the goal of providing organizations with another resource as they begin to reopen,” Roma continued.