Blockchain: Could it make interoperability issues a thing of the past?

One technology that every self-respecting CIO should know about – and one that is currently taking the healthcare world by storm – is blockchain. The younger sister to bitcoin - and once the domain of the financial sector alone - this technology is looking to become prominent in the healthcare industry, too. Why? It offers a means to interoperate, since all users of a network can access that network and all pieces of information are verified and show the history of transactions.

Bruce Broussard, president and CEO of health insurance company Humana, thinks that blockchain will become the next big healthcare technology innovation, particularly as it relates to payments and payer contracts. For example, in a situation where a health plan and patient are dealing with a contract, the blockchain can automatically verify and authorise information and the contractual processes. “There is no more back-and-forth haggling with the health plan about what was paid, why it was paid or whether it should have been paid,” he said, in a piece in Becker’s Hospital Review this month.

Blockchain in population health

“With transparency and automation, greater efficiencies will lead to lower administration costs, faster claims and less money wasted.”

Another potential healthcare application, says the piece, is population health. Instead of relying on health information exchanges or other means of aggregating data, organisations can eliminate the middleman and access patient databases on a large, population scale.

“Blockchain will leap-frog population health by providing trust where none exists for continuous access to patient records by directly linking information to clinical and financial outcomes,” reports CIO magazine.

Healthcare applications

So what exactly is blockchain? “It helps to think about a blockchain kind of like a global computer,” says Micah Winkelspecht, founder and CEO of Gem, a blockchain technology company. “It’s a giant machine that allows us to interoperate with each other and to do that in a very trusted way. Economists call it the global trust machine – a giant network of connected computers all operating together to come to a consensus on what is true.”

Currently, Windelspecht says he doesn’t know of any healthcare organisations that are actively using the technology. But once the perception around blockchain being costly dissipates and healthcare stakeholders being to understand not only how the technology works, but its implications, it could take off much in the same way as it did in finance, he says.

“This year already we’re seeing major healthcare organisations beginning to explore it and we’re working to help them start building prototypes and pilot programs,” says Winkelspecht. “It’s on a very short time horizon.”

Read the story in full here – 9 things you need to know about blockchain in healthcare

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