Privacy Preserving Health Credentials Can Help Get Us Back to Normal

IBM Malaysia's managing director, Catherine Lian

By Catherine Lian, IBM Malaysia, Managing Director

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated the need for public and private sector organisations to rethink their use of shared spaces to keep employees and citizens safe. Even with approved vaccines in Malaysia and some other countries, the need remains to scale proactive testing and health credentialing in a cost-effective and decentralised way.

Through decentralisation, individuals can control their health data in a way where trustworthy credentials can still be used to support access to shared spaces.

As we move toward a return to ‘normal’, the use of health credentials – for example, a credential showing recent Covid-19 testing or vaccination status – can play an important role, as long as access to these credentials can be scaled and secured in a transparent and privacy-preserving way.

Building trust through automation and scale

From IBM’s experience supporting our clients before and during the pandemic, it’s clear that different organisations, facilities and meeting places have highly different needs. Their existing customer journeys, workflows, IT infrastructure, regulatory requirements and physical processes differ significantly.

To help facilitate interoperability, IBM Digital Health Pass is designed to support organisations as they begin to reopen by enabling individuals to present a verifiable health status to gain access to a public location. It can utilise multiple data types, including temperature checks, Covid-19 exposure notifications, Covid-19 test results and vaccine status, to generate a verified health status.

Right now, a great deal of contact tracing and health credentialing continues to be managed using paper, spreadsheets and email. That might work for a small office or restaurant, but not for an organisation with 10,000 employees or airports managing thousands of flights per day. Without automation, the ability to monitor, analyse or audit such vast operations is near to impossible.

Protecting data privacy was a vital consideration in the design of this solution. From a user perspective, IBM Digital Health Pass puts the individual in control, allowing them to securely store, manage and authorize sharing of their health status from their mobile phones with designated recipients without exposing the underlying data used to generate it. Our approach starts with the underlying platform and integration but surfaces itself in a range of applications for the citizen or test holder.

In other words, verifiable test results can be embedded into anything from a scannable QR code on the user’s smartphone to an airline booking system or a corporate ID badge.

Looking ahead of Covid-19

From proof of insurance, to proof of age, there has long been a demand for ways to provide credentials without revealing more information than is necessary. As we look ahead, new digital health tools will be increasingly needed to provide individuals with a verifiable and privacy-preserving way to manage and share their health status. This includes the ability to securely schedule immunisations, track medical test results, exchange anonymised medical data, and stay abreast of additional medical care.

The public and private sector can work together to assemble infrastructure that can scale, verify, and safeguard digital health credentials that can be used around the world. Through our work with organisations worldwide, we have come to appreciate that it is not the standards behind a credential that present a challenge. The difficulty lies in being able to surface health credentials within the journeys and workflows of the many different organisations that people interact with each day, from employers to schools to healthcare centres and government offices.

For this to happen, there needs to be interoperability, flexibility, data security and trust. With hybrid cloud, blockchain, and AI, we have embedded into IBM Digital Health Pass the ingredients needed to help accelerate the digital transformation that every sector requires to help support the return to work, travel, tourism and entertainment.

We have recently announced in this region that IBM and Accredify enable data-driven decisions with IBM Digital Health Pass and Accredify’s Digital Health Passport. A solution like Digital Health Pass could help ensure that individuals are entering a public space knowing that others have met the same criteria – one of the primary points of concern and anxiety as we imagine the opportunity to get back to the places and activities that we love.

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