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Private Payers News

Aetna, Anthem, HCSC Back Healthcare Blockchain Initiative

Three of the nation’s largest payers are joining forces with IBM and PNC Bank to enable healthcare blockchain and promote information sharing.

Healthcare blockchain

Source: Getty Images

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- Aetna, Anthem, and Health Care Service Corporation announced a new partnership with IBM and PNC Bank focused on bringing blockchain technology to healthcare.

“The aim is to create an inclusive blockchain network that can benefit multiple members of the healthcare ecosystem in a secure, shared environment,” the companies stated. The goal is to allow the blockchain network to enable healthcare companies to build, share and deploy solutions that drive digital transformation in the industry.”

The first step for the collaboration — dubbed a health utility network — is identifying use cases that demonstrate the usefulness of blockchain for secure health data exchange. Work will then turn to signing up additional members ranging from providers to developers.

”We are committed to improving the healthcare consumer experience and making our healthcare system work more effectively,” said Aetna Chief Technology Officer Claus Jensen. “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.”

Specifically, the five companies hope to reduce administrative costs by reducing inefficiencies and redundancies tied to inaccurate data.

“This alliance will enable healthcare-related data and business transactions to occur in way that addresses market demands for transparency and security, while making it easier for the patient, payer and provider to handle payments” said PNC Treasury Management Head of Product Chris Ward. “Using this technology, we can remove friction, duplication, and administrative costs that continue to plague the industry.”

Payers have warmed to the idea of blockchain over the past year.

Most recently, Aetna joined the Synaptic Health Alliance in December to conduct a pilot for healthcare blockchain technology focused on improving the accuracy of provider directories, which industry estimates claim cost the healthcare industry for $2.1 billion to maintain. Earlier last year, Anthem unveiled the launch of an artificial intelligence data trial on blockchain in partnership with doc.ai.

“HCSC is continuously exploring how technology and data can improve the lives of our members by reducing fragmentation of information and connecting parts of the health care system,” added HCSC Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer Steve Betts. “We are proud to be part of this collaboration focused on enhancing technical knowledge, understanding capabilities and unlocking the possibilities to drive quality, affordable care.”

While the partnership between the payers, PNC Bank, and IBM has set its sights in the near term on administrative inefficiencies, it should have more far-reaching applications in research, such as tailoring therapeutics to specific individuals and populations. A lack of access to clinical data continues to hinder innovation in drug discovery and development.

“Blockchain’s unique attributes make it suitable for large networks of members to quickly exchange sensitive data in a permissioned, controlled, and transparent way,” said Lori Steele, IBM’s General Manager for Healthcare and Life Sciences for IBM. “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.”

Each mention of healthcare blockchain should be met with an abundance of caution. Despite enthusiasm for blockchain among healthcare leaders and professionals, the technology is still nascent and untested in this and other industries.

That being said, blockchain on the surface has many of the characteristics necessary for supporting providers and patients.

“Blockchain technology enables the efficient creation of a synchronized, shared source of high-quality provider data through a decentralized, distributed ledger across a peer-to-peer network,” the authors of a Synaptic Health Alliance white paper noted. “Transactions are recorded chronologically in a cooperative and tamper-resistant manner, and updates entered by any party on their record are replicated almost immediately across all the other parties’ copies.”

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