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Blockchain technology is increasingly moving to the core of the health industry, as providers test whether the technology can be used to promote efficient claims and payment processing and enable secure and frictionless healthcare information exchanges.
The industry believes blockchain technology has enormous potential. To leverage this apparent promise, IBM has announced that Cigna and Sentara Healthcare have joined a new health utility network that uses blockchain.
In a statement, IBM said the aim of this blockchain health utility network was to convene a “broad ecosystem of healthcare organizations in a highly secure, shared environment with the goal of enabling organizations to build, share and deploy solutions using blockchain that drive digital transformation in the industry.”
IBM general manager for healthcare and life sciences, Lori Steele, said blockchain was making it possible for organizations to enter into alliances that were previously considered unlikely and with that, new opportunities were being created.
“The distinctive attribute of blockchain is enabling collaborations between parties that could not easily take place previously, and with that entirely new business models are emerging. The byproduct of this is the ability to link organizations in real-time and in ways that can ultimately improve the patient experience,” Steele said.
Cigna executive vice president and chief information officer, Mark Boxer said they saw an enormous opportunity for blockchain to improve “the way we harness insights across the healthcare ecosystem to better serve our customers and communities. 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.”
Sentara Healthcare, on the other hand, said it was hoping to employ information technology to continuously improve healthcare. Mike Reagin, Sentara Healthcare Senior Vice President and Chief Information and Innovation Officer, said: “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.”
A top priority for healthcare industry executives, according to the 2019 HIMSS U.S. Leadership and Workforce Survey report, is cybersecurity and privacy. This is where blockchain becomes attractive, since it is a technology about strengthening trust in data.
IBM described blockchain as a digital record keeping system that creates a new way to share and secure data across a business network. The ability to do this in real time, while maintaining permissioned access, data ownership and governance across many disparate parties, is what makes it so transformative.
The new blockchain network, which IBM launched in the middle of January, is proving quite attractive, as other companies such as Aetna, Anthem, Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), and PNC Bank have also joined in. IBM said the companies were all exploring ways that blockchain can be used to address a range of industry challenges, including promoting efficient claims and payment processing, enabling secure and frictionless healthcare information exchanges, and ways to maintain current and accurate provider directories.
Rajeev Ronanki, Anthem, Inc.’s Chief Digital Officer, said they had come together to create the health utility network on “realizing the need to improve transparency and interoperability in the industry in order to improve healthcare for all Americans. Engaging additional members across partner levels and industry perspectives will increase the network’s reach and ability to deliver high value solutions.”
IBM hopes to add more members to its blockchain health utility network and with this to expand use cases for the benefit of the healthcare industry.
Blockchain networks seem to be in vogue at the moment. Last year health insurers, Humana and UnitedHealth Group revealed they were working on a blockchain pilot with Quest Diagnostics and technology and data companies Multiplan and Optum. Later in the year, Aetna and Catholic healthcare company Ascension, joined the network known as the Synaptic Health Alliance, which is working on a provider directory.
With the healthcare industry susceptible to cyberattacks, blockchain technology could be the tonic that the sector is desperate to gain. For this reason, it is difficult not to think blockchain as part of healthcare is a match made in heaven. Blockchain’s biggest promise is that it can seal all the loopholes and prevent data breaches.