What role will blockchain technology play in the future of healthcare? The upcoming HLTH conference, which aims to bring together healthcare industry representatives with next-generation technology experts, promises to help answer that question.
The conference, which takes place in Las Vegas from May 6 to 9, is billed as an event focused on “disruptive innovation” for the healthcare industry.
Constance Sjoquist, chief content officer for HLTH, said in an interview that the conference is important because the healthcare industry tends to lag behind other industries in embracing technological innovation.
“In healthcare, for years, things have not changed fast enough,” Sjoquist said. “You have an incumbent mindset and legacy technology. … The reason HLTH is going to be different from other events is it's going to bring together incumbents with disruptors.”
Those disruptors include blockchain experts like Chandra Duggirala, M.D., who will speak at the conference. Duggirala is the founder and CEO of Tides.network, which is building a peer-to-peer health insurance network with the goal of “decentralizing” health insurance.
Blockchains and the Future of Healthcare
While blockchain technology is only one of the innovative insights on the agenda for the HLTH event, distributed ledgers are poised to be a key driver of the type of new efficiencies for healthcare that HTLH aims to promote.
According to Sjoquist, who worked previously as a research director at Gartner specializing in healthcare payers, blockchains can address a range of problems within the healthcare industry.
This includes, at a most basic level, challenges like managing data associated with claims, which Sjoquist called “easy pickings” for blockchain-based solutions.
More broadly, Sjoquist envisions a future where blockchain technology enables more efficient and secure sharing of data for all stakeholders in the industry.
“The patient, the provider and the payer all need to have visibility into their data and decide who and when to share it with,” she said, noting that a blockchain can help them to do that with more privacy and efficiency than other technologies.
For example, Sjoquist said, a blockchain could be used to manage data from genomics testing. Genomics tests evaluate an individual’s risk for diseases based on genetic characteristics, and many genomics tests are self-administered by patients at home. Sharing the data from such tests with healthcare experts who can help guide patients is difficult because patients lack a secure way of transferring the data and retaining control over how it is used. By placing genomics test data on a blockchain, test results could be automatically transmitted to healthcare providers without forcing patients to surrender their ability to control the data.
Asked how broadly blockchain technology might be applied to solve the healthcare industry’s current challenges, Sjoquist said that the blockchain “is probably going to be primarily devoted to the sharing and access of information.”
It is unlikely to prove as innovative for addressing other types of challenges and processes within the industry. But because data management and security are so central to the healthcare industry, the blockchain stands to add significant value, Sjoquist said.
Although blockchain technology has yet to see massive adoption within the industry, several healthcare companies are already leveraging the blockchain technology to help manage data. HLTH has covered some real-world use cases on its blog.
Blockchains and Healthcare Costs
Blockchain technology might also be able to help address one of the biggest concerns about the healthcare industry, at least from the consumer’s perspective: cost.
“A lot of costs in healthcare are tied to humans and what they do,” Sjoquist said, adding that manual management of data is one major source of expenditures for healthcare companies. And because blockchains “can prevent the need for people to review information manually due to a lack of an automated way to share information securely,” it can help to lower costs.
Although blockchain technology is unlikely to “reinvent the cost structures” that determine how money is spent within healthcare, it can add new efficiencies and improve accuracies in order to keep costs down, according to Sjoquist.
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