Three of the nation’s largest health insurers and two health information technology vendors have launched a collaborative pilot program to use blockchain technology in a cross-industry initiative designed to improve and validate the information in provider directories.

Participants in the initiative include insurers Humana, MultiPlan and UnitedHealthcare, as well as vendors Optum and Quest Diagnostics.

The insurers’ listings of providers are crucial for consumers who are looking to choose a doctor, but ensuring the information contained on the lists has been a vexing problem for insurers; participants in this pilot program acknowledge that they spend about $2.1 billion annually chasing and maintaining provider data.

The pilot will test the premise that administrative costs and data quality can be improved by sharing provider data inputs and changes made by different parties across a blockchain, which may lower operating costs, improve data quality and improve consumer access to care. Use of blockchain, participants believe, will be a core technology to improving health plan provider directories.

“A key benefit of blockchain is the ability to build and maintain a secure and immutable ledger of information on top of open source technologies,” according to Bill Fearnley, research director at International Data Corporation, a market intelligence firm, and leader of IDC’s blockchain strategy. “The ability to build ‘one version of the truth’ is important for compliance record keeping, operations management and customer support.’”

Also See: Data provenance seen as a top healthcare use for blockchain

Optum brings a range of health information technology services to the project, such as analytics, risk management, population health management and patient engagement platforms. Quest Diagnostics is connected to more than 650 electronic health record systems and works with a majority of healthcare delivery systems and physicians across the nation.

“We are collaborating with our alliance members to explore innovative ways to use blockchain technology in healthcare,” says Mike Jacobs, an engineer at Optum. “Our effort to improve the quality of provider data is a pragmatic and potentially effective way to leverage technology to help those we serve. We envision the possibility of effecting change at scale—supporting our mission of helping make the health system work better for everyone.”

Mike Jacobs
Mike Jacobs

Despite the potential use of blockchain in healthcare applications, Fearnley at IDC cautions that the challenges of using blockchain are many. “While innovation is accelerating, blockchain for the enterprise is only a few years old. As a result, there are many challenges to develop, test, deploy and maintain enterprise-grade blockchain solutions.”

Participants believe the initiative can bring efficiencies to their provider directory efforts and make life easier for patients.

“MultiPlan is excited to participate in this alliance and strengthen our relationships with the other alliance members,” says David Murtagh, vice president of operations for MultiPlan, which maintains information on more than 1 million providers in its networks. “We’re looking forward to exploring how blockchain technology can make the process more efficient while reducing costs, ideally to build investments that can enhance the provider and patient experiences.”

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