For healthcare, blockchain is continually transitioning from an obscure technology to a viable tool for various administrative and data-focused use cases. But while players big and small might be curious about its potential, they’ll also need to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to pilots and partnerships dedicated to the distributed ledger technology.
Plenty of healthcare systems, payers and other organizations have recently taken such a plunge — read on for a few examples of the exploratory blockchain projects launched in 2018.
Perhaps the highest profile blockchain pilot is the Synaptic Health Alliance, a seven-organization collaboration exploring how the technology could keep the information in health plan provider directories and other databases up to date. Rather than individually log redundant sets of data, the groups turned blockchain as a collective means to ease the burden.
“Our premise for putting an alliance together is if we could join forces in solving the problem for the industry, we could theoretically improve the quality of that data and reduce our operational costs by sharing the work or the burden associated with maintaining that data,” Mike Jacobs, senior distinguished engineer with Optum Health and the company’s blockchain spokesman, told MobiHealthNews. “There is information that needs to be up to date, and all the payers are independently curating and updating it to no competitive advantage. So by joining forces, we hope we can share each other’s work in reducing those costs, and because we have multiple organizations with eyeballs on those data the quality should also go up.”
The Alliance was first announced and launched in April, and at the time comprised of Humana, MultiPlan, Quest Diagnostics, Optum and UnitedHealthcare. The past few weeks also saw the addition of Aetna and Ascension to the effort.
Earlier this month Harvard Medical School’s Lab of Medical Imaging and Computation, part of Massachusetts General Hospital, announced the launch of an exploratory blockchain pilot with Korean startup MediBloc. The three-year project will use simulated patient data to explore new storage and exchange mechanisms that could complement the institution’s EHR system. In addition, the pair will also be looking at how AI could be used to improve imaging, analytics and other information management challenges.
MediBloc, which focuses on distributing healthcare information between patients and medical institutions in a secure ecosystem, also has a number of partnerships with other medical institutions such as Bundang Seoul National University and Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital in South Korea.
The Professional Credentials Exchange (ProCredEx) is another substantial healthcare blockchain collaboration involving numerous organizations. Announced in early November, the effort is using the distributed ledger technology to cut down the administrative burden of professional credentialing. Alongside blockchain, the exchange will leverage AI, data science and the collective expertise of its contributors to verify physicians’ medical licenses, schooling and other credentials that cost organizations time and money to confirm.
"Over the coming months, we intend to grow the Partner Program in a manner that diversifies our member base and grows the volume of verified credentials data available within the exchange," Anthony Begando, ProCredEx’s CEO and cofounder, said in a statement.
ProCredEx is partnered with and powered by Hashed Health, which builds blockchain platforms for implementation in healthcare. The program’s initial participants include WellCare Health Plans, Spectrum Health, Accenture, National Government Services and The Hardenbergh Group.
In June, the Mayo Clinic signed a working agreement with London-based startup Medicalchain to explore how blockchain could benefit the health system. In a post announcing the arrangement, Medicalchain CEO Dr. Abdullah Albeyatti said that the effort will primarily be focused on revamping EHR management.
"Mayo Clinic will provide their world-class healthcare and health IT expertise, while Medicalchain will provide our knowledge of blockchain and crypto,” Albeyatti wrote in the post announcing the collaboration. "Together we will work on several use cases for blockchain-based electronic health records. There's a lot of opportunity out there, and we feel this working agreement will be of benefit to all healthcare stakeholders.”
Cape Fear Valley Hospital (CFVH) made a partnership with Health Wizz in July to pilot the latter’s blockchain platform for patient health data management.
Patients can use Health Wizz’s platform to log and share their personal health information, and are rewarded with a digital currency for doing so. For the pilot, 30 CFVH patients enrolled in a chronic disease management program will be provided with the blockchain tool with the ultimate goal of cutting down hospital readmissions and improving patient-physician communications between various caregivers.
"Eighty-six cents of every dollar spent on healthcare goes to treating or managing a chronic condition," Michael Nagowski, CEO of Cape Fear Valley Health, said in a statement. "Technology tools like Health Wizz help to reduce inefficiencies and improve the ability to proactively identify risks and coordinate care, enabling health professionals to better treat and manage chronic diseases."