At the start of this year five major health organizations – Humana, MultiPlan, Quest Diagnostics and Optum and UnitedHealthcare of the UnitedHealth Group – announced they would launch a blockchain-based pilot program with the goal to improve the quality of health data and reduce administrative costs. Organizations have stated that they will specifically investigate how technology could help ensure that the most up-to-date information on the health care provider is available in healthcare plan providers' directories.
While many other details of this initiative are not yet known, this announcement has opened the eyes of other IT leaders in the healthcare industry who have become increasingly curious about this emerging technology. For example, at the Nashville Health IT Summit earlier this summer, a MultiPlan executive who is part of this pilot project was questioned about his prospects for research and development work done on the health blockchain in recent years. Years  At this point, two leaders of KPMG-Arun Ghosh, a principal, who is working with life science companies on blockchain and digital supply chain initiatives; and Michael B. Yetter, director of health management consultancy, recently spoke with Healthcare Informatics on the impact of this new initiative, what are the biggest use cases for blockchain in the healthcare sector today and how fast suppliers and payers could start moving into large-scale projects. Below are extracts from that discussion.
What are you feeling about the blockchain right now as it relates to its biggest health use cases? What do people talk about?
Yetter : From the customer's point of view, things are a bit exaggerated. But [we often see that] given that many emerging technologies are gaining momentum in some other sectors, you will see the path through the pharmaceutical sector and then health care with payers and suppliers. We are seeing the same scheme here. On the ground of the healthcare space, particularly between payers and providers, we are starting to see more interest in significant pilots. Some former adherents have tested concepts and pilots, many on claims or aspects of claims management and some on the regulatory impact of the supply chain
Michael B. Yetter
We are starting to see the nature of conversations about what these use cases may have become increasingly sophisticated around things like consortia on provider data and to make sure that the historical challenges of accepting provider data between multiple entities submitting or processing claims, that is, those specific data or attribute elements or shared or reconciled in a better way. So this is a good example for where you are starting to see the collaboration.
Ghosh : The additional functionality provided by blockchain, compared to traditional EHR (electronic health record) systems and other existing business technologies today, is that from the moment of the meeting to the moment of discharge, we see the blockchain be driven around records and interactions with the patient, but also interactions with the pharmaceutical ecosystem – from the supply of drugs or from the supply to the administration of drugs. Even with the Obama administration that says we need EHR across the board, it's still nascent in terms of who has access to what kind of record and what kind of electronification exists.
So blockchain is coming as the next level of granularity: if we can provide immutable records that are now at the time of pre-diagnosis to well-being, we can keep track of how to improve, but also not to return to the hospital. Now, we have a story. Between payers, suppliers, pharmaceuticals and distributors, we see different levels of interest and adoption. They say, "We fly a certain part of this", but there is still an end-to-end vision yet, from what we have seen.
What are your thoughts on MultiPlan / Humana / Optum / Quest / United initiative? Would you classify this as a significant driver?
Yetter : From an external view, and we have not been directly involved, it is to my knowledge that this collaboration focuses on the sharing of provider data. I would classify it as more meaningful because they are bringing together more parts to solve a specific use case and problem. So it goes beyond the first conversations, going back a year or more, which related to more learning and understanding of technology. Now they are saying that they get the technology, so let me apply this to a problem we have and something we can improve in the industry. And seeing many more actors involved is encouraging.
Some have claimed that the increased use of blockchain in the health sector could improve the way HIEs (health information exchange) operate today. Are you an agreement?