Health care insurers UnitedHealth Group, Humana and MultiPlan have partnered with provider Quest Diagnostics in a study on utilizing blockchain technology to improve health care data. They are not the first companies to look at marrying healthcare with the blockchain. Medicalchain is one health records company looking to solve this problem, which currently has voluntary patient and healthcare professional registration on their website. MediChain is another medical records project in the ICO stage, and Etheal is looking to bring transparency to medical tourism through the blockchain. The difference however, is that the three healthcare companies looking to partner on this project are already well-established in the medical industry. Not only do they have brand recognition, but they have access to patient data and medical records already, which can be used to jumpstart their model should they decide to proceed after the study.
This study is already a nationwide project. UnitedHealth Group is based in Minnesota; Humana is in Kentucky, Quest Diagnostics is in New Jersey and MultiPlan is in New York. Together, these firms will first analyze how blockchain technology can keep the list of doctors and hospitals in a health plan’s directory current. Lists of network providers are hard to keep current, and often result in regulatory issues.
According to the group of insurers and providers, “Industry estimates indicate that $2.1 billion is spent annually across the health care system chasing and maintaining provider data. The pilot will examine how sharing data across health care organizations on blockchain technology can improve data accuracy, streamline administration and improve access to care.”
Blockchain is typically thought of as an open-source platform, given its start in the cryptocurrency industry with Bitcoin as the first mover. The group is looking at it from another angle, exploring the possibility of a private, non-public blockchain for their collective enterprises. Their reasoning is partly based on the intended purpose of this project. The goal is to address business problems for the companies involved, which want to share private information to streamline processes. Together, they will address the accuracy of demographic data, by cross-referencing overlapping data.
Unlike the insurance providers, Quest Diagnostics provides actual health care services. The company collects specimens from clinics and hospitals, and bills health plans to run tests. This becomes a problem when Quest Diagnostics and the health plans have conflicting data. The result is that insurers might reject claims for the work, resulting in losses and a tremendous amount of overhead for both the insurer and Quest. With matching, immutable data, disputes can be resolved faster, saving labor on both sides of a dispute.
Through this project, the companies will determine the viability of blockchain technology in how it maintains the quality of data, versus other solutions. Such a collaborative effort may be resolved with a centralized database, rather than blockchain. The general difference is in how the data is acted upon. With a database, one of the companies would most likely need to be the custodian of the data, where records may be added or removed. With a blockchain, the companies may share in updates to the private blockchain, and records are immutable; there is no deletion functionality. This may provide better historical recordkeeping than a database, and the trustless status of a blockchain would be appealing to competing businesses such as these.
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