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by Michael Scott, May 01, 2017

IBM Report Highlights Blockchain’s Value in Healthcare


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As blockchain technology is adopted more widely within healthcare, a recent survey sought to gauge the intersection between the industry and disruptive innovation.

In a report titled “Healthcare Rallies for Blockchain: Keeping Patients At The Center,” the IBM Institute for Business Value and The Economist Intelligence Unit presented the results of a survey of 200 healthcare executives in 16 countries. Below is a brief summation of the major findings:

  • 16 percent of healthcare organizations are targeting a "commercial blockchain solution at scale in 2017.”

  • Organizations that are primed for this 2017 commercialization see the greatest benefits in clinical trial records, regulatory compliance and medical records.

  • Nine out of 10 survey respondents reported the desire to finance blockchain applications by 2018.

  • According to the researchers, blockchain technology offers the industry "long data" versus “big data,” that is, data that reaches as far back in time as possible. The potential could capture a patient's full health history, including every vital sign ever recorded and medicine ever taken.

  • Blockchain adoption barriers that were reported included immature technology (56 percent) and insufficient skills (55 percent).  

  • Only 8 percent of North American respondents are at the forefront of blockchain adoption.

In responding to the report, consultant and blockchain researcher Brennan Bennett, founder of Blockchain Healthcare Review, an online forum examining technical innovation in blockchain and health information technology, said that setting standards for patient mediated data, which is of high priority in the blockchain healthcare space, really begins with grasping the magnitude of the lifetime history relative to healthcare points of contact.

“Yes, the value is immense, but only if you have the technology to develop the desired trend analysis models capable of making use of the data,” Bennett said. “I believe this is where smart contracts that are written to identify biomedical and/or genomic traits can work together with smart contracts containing data on the patient’s health plan.  I also believe this scenario will one day converge directly with artificial intelligence.”

Bennett went on to say that blockchain adoption in the healthcare sector is indeed moving fast, but not in a business-to-consumer (B2C) fashion just yet. He noted that there are some exceptional examples of B2C applications, but major enterprise entities are banking on the internal operational efficiencies that blockchain technology can offer.

“Claims, bundled payments, authorizations- —they have to start as reasonably close to binary procedures, then move forward to consumer facing product development to justify ROI,” Bennett said. “This, however, does not even address the scenario of one or more healthcare organizations sharing data on their blockchain networks with other major industry entities.”

Bennett added that he does agree with the report’s finding that utilizing blockchain technology to automate regulatory compliance issues is an absolute “must win” and that it can’t come soon enough.

“In the current state, providing an immutable audit trail for issues like claims remittance would be a quick win,” he said. “I think the claims example regarding the determination of out-of-pocket costs before treatment is absolutely wonderful. That is exactly how the blockchain innovation community should be looking at how to provide for the consumer what has never been provided for.”

“That type of economic power handed to the consumer will not go unnoticed,” Bennett concluded. “In fact I strongly believe it would further spark investment in blockchain-powered, backend business logic automation for providers to be able to concretely offer competitive costs to consumers.”