Why Digital Health Passes are the smart and responsible way forward IBM Supply Chain and Blockchain Blog

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woman maskedHaving two daughters as nurses during the early stages and height of the pandemic made for tough weeks and months for myself and my family. The uncertainty of the virus and the inability to secure PPE for my daughters was a time I hope to never relive. The past year of course has brought unforeseen changes to daily life as we knew it for all of us.

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic span the globe, and no one has been untouched by the impact of this disease. Fortunately, the last five months has brought hope, with vaccines from multiple companies proving to be highly effective and the distribution of doses steadily ramping up. Both private and public sectors have pivoted and worked diligently to assuage the challenges we have all endured.

With a significant portion of the U.S. population vaccinated and many more having received their first dose at this point, we must now shift our thinking to how we can responsibly and efficiently reopen economies. This will be crucial in getting citizens back to work, enabling business to take advantage of pent-up demand, and ultimately restoring economic prosperity to the many who have been financially impacted by COVID-19.

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Impact and moving the needle

I have been a technologist my whole life, and the capabilities of new industry and public partnerships in helping humanity continues to amaze me. Technology has played a crucial role in assisting schools and offices to swiftly transition to remote work and education. It’s now time for us to take advantage of these advancements once again, by responsibly bringing back employees, students, and consumers.

I am the IBM Delivery Executive for the NY Digital Health Pass — Excelsior. Digital Health Passes are powerful technology-enabled solutions that can help restore normalcy for society. IBM’s Digital Health Pass, underpinned by blockchain, leveraged in NY sits at the nexus of data security and healthcare. Users are able to verify their health status without sharing personal health data with any third party. There has been tremendous hype around Digital Health Passes or “vaccine passports”, but we have converted vision to reality. Our partnership with the state of New York has brought Excelsior Pass, a New York State branded Health Pass, to the market. The first state Health Pass to be rolled out in the United States.

Making vision a reality with Excelsior Pass

Imagine the streets and restaurants of New York City humming again. Baseball stadiums refilled with fans for summer games, and Broadway back to entertaining the flood of tourists and New Yorkers that flock to see iconic shows. If you live in NY, the Excelsior Pass could be the ticket to this and much more in the summer of 2021. The state of New York contracted IBM to implement a Digital Health Pass to aid state officials in expediting the reopening of businesses. Over the last two months my team and I have worked to make this a reality. And it’s been amazing to work on a solution that will likely help millions of people and businesses. This undertaking sits at the intersection of healthcare and technology, two sectors I am deeply passionate about.

The Excelsior Pass launched on 25 March, making the tool available to all 19 million New Yorkers and all businesses across the state. The application has three components, the portal, wallet, and scanner. Those who have been vaccinated or tested can visit the portal, a website for users to receive their Excelsior Pass. After they have successfully received their pass, they can download the NYS Excelsior Pass Wallet application to their smartphone as a place to store their valid credential. The credential is what people will show to businesses accepting Excelsior Pass and looks quite similar to an airline boarding pass. The third and final component is the scanner. Businesses can download the NYS Excelsior Pass Scanner to a smartphone or tablet and scan the QR codes of patrons passes to verify they have been tested or vaccinated.

In order to ensure equitable access of the application, the verifiable and tamper-proof passes can be presented either digitally on a smartphone or printed to ensure the pass is genuine and the holder’s current COVID-19 health status complies with necessary guidelines. The use of this tool is optional, but we hope the emphasis on data security will bring confidence to business owners and citizens of New York in using this powerful tool to help jumpstart the economy.

Moving forward with Digital Health Passes

Seeing an initial positive response from the market gives promise that the implementation of Health Passes is a viable route to restarting economies. Moving forward, as other states start to roll out their own Health Pass solutions, it will be crucial to ensure interoperability between platforms. The emphasis on interoperability will allow other states Immunization Information Systems (ISS) to seamlessly connect with Excelsior Pass or any other digital health pass. We envision a future that will include multiple Health Pass solutions, giving organizations and consumers the ability to choose which to utilize. This is why my team and I have put an emphasis on the interoperability of our solution. In addition, easy communication between state and federal health systems will reduce necessary investment and increase access to Digital Health Passes. In the near future we envision a user from any state being able to use their Health Pass in New York or any other state of their choice.

The expansion doesn’t stop there, as more countries begin to implement similar solutions and international travel begins to pick up, this emerging Digital Health Pass ecosystem will continue to grow. My team sees our technical expertise and network design framework (including proven governance and incentive models) as a key differentiator in helping governments and organizations build and fine tune their programs. The implementation of Excelsior Pass in New York and other emerging health pass systems will help create a standard for vaccine and test verification. This will give companies, schools, and businesses the option to utilize a standard system as opposed to having to build and customize their own. Ultimately, this will result in significant savings for any organization toying with the idea of implementing a health pass system.

As we move towards the hopeful end of the pandemic, we are excited to see the impact and value digital health passes will bring to empower all facets of the economy to fully restart. I’m optimistic about the future and am looking forward to the days when I can get back on the road, meet with my colleagues, and continue to solve the world’s problems through technological solutions.

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