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Health insurers, IBM partner on blockchain project


A group of health insurers is partnering with IBM Corp. to use blockchain technology to improve how industry stakeholders exchange health information and ultimately create a better patient experience.

Aetna, Anthem, and Health Care Service Corp. along with PNC Bank and IBM said Thursday they want to create a blockchain network that will allow the companies to build, share and deploy transformative solutions.

They plan to use blockchain to solve some age-old industry problems, such as enabling health information exchanges, maintaining accurate provider directors and processing claims and payments more efficiently. The group said they are still figuring out what they will focus on first, and plan to add more healthcare and tech companies to the collaborative in the coming months.

“We are committed to improving the healthcare consumer experience and making our healthcare system work more effectively,” Claus Jensen, chief technology officer at Aetna, said in the announcement. “Through the application of blockchain technology, we’ll work to improve data accuracy for providers, regulators, and other stakeholders, and give our members more control over their own data.”

In the simplest terms, blockchain is a shared record of transactions. Instead of the record being located on a single, hackable computer, it is maintained across multiple computers. Any changes made to the shared record must be agreed on by all users. Changes are tracked and time-stamped.

In recent years, healthcare companies have become interested in leveraging blockchain technology to address various problems, largely those that involve sharing data. But the technology is still nascent, though it has immense potential. Most healthcare companies are still testing the blockchain waters through experiments and pilot projects.

“Blockchain’s unique attributes make it suitable for large networks of members to quickly exchange sensitive data in a permissioned, controlled, and transparent way,” Lori Steele, general manager for healthcare and life sciences for IBM, said in the announcement. “The fact that these major healthcare players have come together to collaborate indicates the value they see in working together to explore new models that we think could drive more efficiency in the healthcare system and ultimately improve the patient experience.”

The IBM-led group is not the only collaborative testing blockchain in healthcare. The Synaptic Health Alliance is another group formed by Aetna, Ascension, Humana, Multiplan, Optum, UnitedHealthcare and Quest Diagnostics to first find out how blockchain could improve healthcare provider directories. Early results of their pilot project, first launched in April 2018, are slated to be released next month during the HIMSS annual conference..

In another example, companies including WellCare Health Plans and Spectrum Health, among others, are working with the Hashed Health-backed Professional Credentials Exchange to leverage blockchain technology to speed up the process of verifying physician credentials.