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At its core, blockchain technology is about strengthening trust in data. This can be especially valuable for businesses, as a blockchain network can serve as a digital record system that creates new ways to share and secure information. Moreover, the ability to do this in real time, while maintaining permissioned access, data ownership and governance across many disparate parties, is what makes this technology so transformative for a number of industries.
The power of data is a force driving healthcare transformation in particular. A tremendous amount of information is being collected by various entities, as wearable devices, at-home testing services and telemedicine are becoming more common.
Furthermore, global healthcare expenditures are expected to continue to rise, as spending is projected to increase at an annual rate of 5.4% between 2017-2022, from $7.724 trillion to $10.059 trillion. Healthcare service providers are now seeking digital innovation to improve financial management, customer care, and interoperability, all while creating better usage of health data.
For example, IBM has created a new blockchain-based health utility network to convene a broad ecosystem of healthcare organizations in a highly secure, shared environment. The goal is to enable organizations to build, share and deploy blockchain-based solutions that will drive digital transformation.
“The distinctive attributes of blockchain is enabling collaborations between parties that could not easily take place previously, and with that entirely new business models are emerging,” said Lori Steele, general manager for Healthcare and Life Sciences for IBM. “The byproduct of this is the ability to link organizations in real-time and in ways that can ultimately improve the patient experience.”
IBM’s health utility network includes Aetna, Anthem, Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), and PNC Bank. And announced last week at THINK 2019, IBM’s annual conference focused on technology and business, Cigna and Sentara Healthcare have now joined the health utility network.
Cigna sees enormous potential for blockchain to improve the way we harness insights across the healthcare ecosystem to better serve our customers and communities, said Mark Boxer, executive vice president and chief information officer, Cigna. By working together, and joining the health utility network as a founding member, we have a significant opportunity to create new efficiencies that will lead to improved whole person health and wellness outcomes for our customers and clients.”
According to IBM, the business model of the healthcare blockchain network is predicated on a commitment to open and inclusive participation. More members expect to be added, including other health organizations, providers, startups and ISVs. All participants will work together to expand use cases that can benefit the entire healthcare industry.
We came together to create the health utility network realizing the need to improve transparency and interoperability in the industry in order to improve healthcare for all Americans, said Rajeev Ronanki, chief digital officer of Anthem, Inc. Engaging additional members across partner levels and industry perspectives will increase the network’s reach and ability to deliver high value solutions.”
A Better Way To Share Health Data
The organizations involved in the health utility network are exploring ways that blockchain technology can be used to address various industry challenges, all of which include data sharing across various parties and networks. This ranges from promoting efficient claims and payment processing to enabling secure and frictionless healthcare information exchanges.
“It’s clear to us that systems in healthcare are fragmented. This collaboration holds the promise of solving some of the greatest challenges in the healthcare industry today, such as improving transparency and creating interoperability, all within an open and collaborative environment. We are bullish on blockchain,” Boxer of Cigna told me.
For example, Boxer mentioned the difficulty of putting together a patient’s health and wellness record across the healthcare ecosystem. Blockchain technology, however, can help bring this information together to better service customers.
Consider when a patient goes to the doctor – there is usually a practitioner that takes a record from their file and hangs it outside the door. Now, chances are that this record consists of lots of different information and sources, and in many cases, this information may not contain everything that is needed. This isn’t a great patience experience. Blockchain, however, will empower the patient and make it easier for doctors to practice medicine, all while removing redundancy.”
Another one of the several focus areas for the healthcare ecosystem will be new ways to address payments. For example, a lack of trust between payers and providers can impede efforts to move toward alternative payment models. IBM and PNC have begun collaborating on a way to use blockchain to create shared efficiencies, drive adoption of bundled payments as a reimbursement mechanism, and help improve the value of care.
When we look at the current delivery and reimbursements models and how claim processing happens today, the reconciliation among these is challenging. We want to drive towards elements called ‘value based contracts,’ which provide the ability to have full transparency and visibility across the ecosystem. Blockchain can be the source of truth for how these contracts get executed, allowing near real-time settlements, which will basically automate the entire manual processes that exists today,” said Boxer.
And while data can easily be shared across permissioned networks, there still remains a high level of trust and security in a blockchain ecosystem, which these organizations recognize.
“Sentara is dedicated to leveraging Information Technology to continuously improve health every day. Blockchain is poised to help solve some of healthcare’s most crucial data security, and IT interoperability issues as we look to implement new customer-centric healthcare delivery models,” said Mike Reagin, Sentara Healthcare senior vice president and chief information and innovation officer.
It’s also important to point out that in any event, health data is still owned by the individual and information is only shared based on permission and consent between parties.
“What blockchain technology will really do is improve how patients manage and control their data. Overall, It will improve the patient’s care and experience, putting them in charge of their own care in ways that can’t be done today,” said Boxer.