Aetna, Anthem, Health Care Service, PNC Bank and IBM collaborate on healthcare blockchain 'ecosystem'

January 28, 2019
by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter
A number of healthcare players are teaming up with IBM to create a healthcare network based on blockchain technology.

Participants include Aetna, Anthem, Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), PNC Bank, as well as IBM, the computer and software giant said in a statement.

“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, 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.”

The goal is to improve transparency and interoperability in the industry – major stumbling blocks at present – by using a blockchain network to create both a secure and shared environment for data transfer.

Should the effort succeed, it would reduce “administrative errors and friction,” according to the participants, and permit the more efficient exchange of information between systems and institutions.

“We are committed to improving the healthcare consumer experience and making our healthcare system work more effectively,” said Claus Jensen, chief technology officer at Aetna, a CVS Health business. “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.”

Blockchain, which permits the secure logging and transfer of data among many users, could tackle a range of challenges, including making claims and payments more efficient, enabling secure and easy healthcare information sharing, and keeping current and accurate provider directories, according to the statement.

“We view blockchain as an enabler for establishing trust. Timely access to medical information has been a stumbling block for creating a seamless consumer experience. With a trusted foundation based on transparency and cryptography, we will provide a faster, safer and more secure way to exchange medical information to transform the consumer healthcare experience." said Rajeev Ronanki, chief digital officer of Anthem.

Ultimately, such a network could overcome today's information fragmentation in the healthcare industry. Steve Betts, HCSC senior vice president and chief information officer, noted that such defragmentation could prove key to “enhancing technical knowledge, understanding capabilities and unlocking the possibilities to drive quality, affordable care.”

For PNC, cutting the friction for healthcare-related data and business transactions could “occur in way that addresses market demands for transparency and security, while making it easier for the patient, payer and provider to handle payments,” observed Chris Ward, head of product, PNC Treasury Management.

Blockchain was in the news in December, 2018, when Change Healthcare announced that it had acquired the intellectual property and other key assets of PokitDok, a platform-as-a-service healthcare enterprise.

The deal extended the blockchain technology and APIs of PokitDok to the Change Healthcare Intelligent Healthcare Network for payers, providers and independent software vendors.

“This acquisition is about practical innovation to create a more connected, transparent and efficient healthcare system, where patients control their own information,” Kris Joshi, executive vice president and president of Network Solutions at Change Healthcare, said at the time. “As the leader in blockchain for healthcare and with one of the most extensive open API marketplaces available, with PokitDok we are bringing together synergistic assets and technical expertise for delivering additional capabilities to our customers and accelerated value to digital health markets.”

Also in December, 2018, another application of blockchain was announced when Medical Diagnostic Web (MDW), according to CEO and co-founder Michael Averbach, launched a blockchain platform to match radiologists seeking more volumes with imaging centers in need of additional reading capacity to meet the demand of turnaround times.

“Our long-standing goal is to bring transparency and create an open and fair imaging marketplace connecting buyers and sellers through blockchain,” Averbach told HCB News at the time. “We align the system toward their interests and not to the benefit of large commercial entities, which might not necessarily align with interests of the doctors.”

He said blockchain offers a viable solution to the looming prediction of a radiologist shortage. “We’re not inventing anything new with blockchain, but rather, we’re seeking to apply the advantages of this new technology to the imaging sector.”