National blockchain alliance for healthcare
Five healthcare organisations including United Healthcare have launched a blockchain pilot to improve privacy, security and interoperability of medical records and help insurers maintain up-to-date records of healthcare providers.
The healthcare industry has been flooded with data breaches since 2016, as stolen healthcare records prove lucrative in the black market. On an average, the industry saw about one breach a day in 2016 and 2017. One possible solution to protect healthcare data is to use blockchain technology. The same technology that is behind cryptocurrency has the power to transform healthcare, according to Deloitte.
An IBM study titled Healthcare Rallies for Blockchain found that 56% of its surveyed healthcare executives had plans to implement blockchain solutions by 2020.
Five healthcare organizations including insurers Humana and United Healthcare, IT-enabled health service business Optum, Quest Diagnostics as well as healthcare cost management solutions provider MultiPlan have taken the initiative to launch a blockchain pilot that will help payers streamline and manage provider directories more efficiently.
The pilot test is expected to begin in late spring and reveal results in the fall. It will use blockchain technology to help insurers maintain up-to-date records of healthcare providers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) fines insurers if they don’t maintain directories of correct information that they can provide to insurance beneficiaries.
The process of maintaining such data is, at present, inefficient and cumbersome. Every insurer at the moment does its own independent research into provider information.
Providers often have to process similar information requests from multiple plans at once. CMS requires payers to check with their providers every 90 days to make sure that the information they have on file is correct. Services like Availity help businesses verify their data. But the verification process can be repetitive and expensive.
According to the Premier Healthcare Alliance, the lack of interoperability of data costs $18.6 billion a year and 150,000 lives. The new blockchain pilot will cut down these costs and make managing healthcare records efficient. While health care services such as health systems, managed care services, diagnostic clinics, physicians and others in the industry maintain separate copies of data on healthcare providers, blockchain technology will create a network where information curated by one payer will be shared with others on the network.
The pilot will help each payer to cut down on the time and money they spend on data curation. In the beginning, data will be shared for free within the alliance.
Blockchain technology offers increasing privacy and security of health data while helping to provide a centralised database for stakeholders to turn to for information. It can speed up the process of health information exchanges (HIE). The blockchain is a system that records and stores transaction records on a digital ledger.
The difference from a standard database is that there is no central body like a bank or government that controls the data. Instead, the data is stored in a network of ‘nodes’ or personal computers.
The information is publicly available, but only to those who have permission to access the data. Access is controlled through a system of encrypted keys.
While the blockchain technology has been hacked in the recent past, it is relatively more secure than traditional databases. As security specialists work on increasing blockchain security, the healthcare industry is optimistic about the potential for blockchain to solve some of the industry’s administrative problems.
This is not the first use of blockchain in the industry. MedRec is a prototype by MIT students that uses blockchains to improve digital medical records and allow providers to access digital records quickly and efficiently, without duplication.
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