Blockchain network looks to advance use cases in early 2020

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The Blockchain Health Utility Network is continuing to make progress in fostering discussions around how to use the distributed ledger technology in healthcare.

Core members of the group are continuing discussions about areas in which the technology can be used, and the group hopes to a couple blockchain solutions in place early in 2020, said Mary Butler-Everson, senior vice president of healthcare innovation at PNC.

She and other representatives of the original corporate members gave the update at the Institute & Expo of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) in Nashville, Tenn. The group is finding more payers and provider organizations are finding common ground on the vexing problems that blockchain could solve in healthcare.

“As much as we all compete, we are finding that we agree on fundamental issues, the need for standards and data sets,” Butler-Everson said. “We’re going to need consensus if we’re going to transform the industry.”

The Blockchain Health Utility Network was formed in January by IBM, Aetna, Anthem, Health Care Service Corp. and PNC. In February, Cigna and Sentara Healthcare joined the network.

While there are as many as 30 potential use cases for which blockchain technology could be used, the hard work often involves getting competitors to take a fresh look at vexing industry problems and how blockchain might solve them.

“When we get together and talk about a solution, like bundled payments, payers and providers eventually say, ‘Why are we doing this?’” she said, referring to redundant or unnecessary data or administrative practices. “We’ve always just looked at things from our own perspectives. With blockchain, we’re not competing—we’re creating processes where we all have the same pain point.”

Blockchain offers the potential to find easier solutions in healthcare for problems that stem from lack of standards or doubts about how to facilitate the secure exchange of healthcare information, said Dan Sanders, director of technology and innovation for Anthem.

“When you talk about the challenges of transactions or data exchange between untrusted or semi-trusted entities, then you’ve just defined what blockchain technology can do,” Sanders says. “We’re starting to see industry players look at (interactions via the cloud) and say, ‘I don’t need all the firewalls and protections that we have nowadays.’ (Blockchain) removes an entire construct of complexity.”

Presenters from member organizations at the AHIP session did not indicate which use cases are likely to advance next year, saying much work lies ahead in putting the guardrails in place for implementing distributed ledger technology.

“There are multiple paths we have to move on,” said Butler-Everson. “We have to set up governance, solve how we control data, what do we do when someone wants to join (the network). We have to put some fundamental standards in place, and that’s what we’re doing right now. Each of us is moving our organizations up the learning curve while we build the (network) at the same time.”

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