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Analyzing Blockchain’s Evolution in Healthcare: Two Experts Dive into the Details

August 15, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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Two healthcare leaders at KPMG believe that blockchain activity in healthcare will ramp up in the next 12 to 24 months

Earlier this year, five prominent healthcare organizations—Humana, MultiPlan, Quest Diagnostics, and UnitedHealth Group’s Optum and UnitedHealthcare—announced they would be launching a blockchain-based pilot program with the aim to improve healthcare data quality and reduce administrative costs. The organizations said they would be specifically examining how the technology could help ensure that the most current healthcare provider information is available in health plan provider directories.

While many more details of this initiative are not yet known, this announcement has opened the eyes of other healthcare IT leaders who have become increasingly curious about this emerging technology. For instance, at the Nashville Health IT Summit earlier this summer, a senior executive from MultiPlan, which is part of this pilot project, was asked about his perspectives on the research and development work done on blockchain in healthcare in the past few years.

To this point, two leaders at KPMG—Arun Ghosh, the firm's U.S. blockchain leader; and Michael B. Yetter, director, healthcare management consulting—recently spoke with Healthcare Informatics about the impact of this new initiative, what the greatest use cases are for blockchain in healthcare today, and how quickly providers and payers might start moving into full-scale projects. Below are excerpts from that discussion.

What are you hearing about blockchain right now as it relates to its greatest use cases in healthcare? What are people most bullish about?

Yetter: From a client perspective, things are a bit on the early side. But [we often see that] as many emerging technologies gain momentum in some other sectors, you will see the pathway through pharma and then into healthcare with payers and providers. We are seeing that same pattern here. On the ground in the healthcare space, especially amongst payers and providers, we’re starting to see more interest in meaningful pilots. We have had some earlier adopters doing proof of concepts and pilots—many around claims or aspects of claims management, and some around the regulatory impacts of the supply chain.

Michael B. Yetter

We are starting to see the nature of conversations around what those use cases could be become increasingly sophisticated around things such as consortiums on provider data, and making sure the historical challenges around getting provider data to agree across multiple entities—who are either submitting or processing claims—that those specific data elements or attributes or shared or reconciled in a better way. So that’s one good example for where you are starting to see collaboration.

Ghosh: The additional capability that blockchain provides, versus traditional EHR (electronic health record) systems, and other enterprise technology that exists today, is that from the time of an encounter to the time of discharge, we see blockchain being piloted around records and interactions with the patient, but also interactions with the pharmaceutical ecosystem—from drug provisioning or procurement to drug administration. Even with the Obama administration saying that we need EHRs across the board, it’s still nascent in terms of who has access to what kind of record and what kind of electronification exists.

Arun Ghosh

So blockchain is coming as the next level of granularity: if we can provide immutable records that are now at the time of pre-diagnosis all the way to wellness, we can track getting better, but also not returning to the hospital. Now, we have a story. Between payers, providers, pharmaceuticals, and distributors, we are seeing varying levels of interest and adoption. They are saying, “let’s pilot a certain part of this,” but there is still no end-to-end view yet, from what we have seen.

What are your thoughts on the MultiPlan/Humana/Optum/Quest/United initiative? Would you classify this as a meaningful pilot?

Yetter: From an outside view, and we haven’t been directly involved, it’s my understanding that this collaboration is focused on provider data sharing. I would classify that as more meaningful because they are bringing multiple parties together to solve for a specific use case and problem. So it goes beyond the earliest conversations, going back a year or more, that were more about learning and understanding the technology. Now they are saying that they get the technology, so let me apply this to a problem we have and something that we can enhance in the industry. And seeing multiple big players involved is encouraging.

Some have said that the greatest use of blockchain in healthcare could be improving on how HIEs (health information exchanges) operate today. Do you agree?

Yetter: I don’t think this is achievable in the short term, and there is the bigger picture of truly getting to a complete HIE—and when I say complete, I mean the truly clinical data that is shared between entities, and ideally something that is more accessible to the patient. The ingredients are there for blockchain to make that significantly more usable, and something that can be potentially controlled and accessed by the actual patient or member. And the patient or member can then have the ability to access the information, and also to permission through some of the mechanisms through blockchain, the sharing of that data or specific parts of the data to others who need it in the healthcare environment. There is a lot of good capabilities there that will evolve in this direction to have blockchain enabling more advanced HIEs, but it will be several steps along the pathway before we truly get to that transformation.

Ghosh: Part of this [potential] disruptive model is that it’s the true democratization of healthcare data—if my data is now being “streamed” into a blockchain, I have ownership of it. So the hypothesis of value here is that if the individual can control his or her data, and then can choose who to share it with—the plan, provider, or someone like Nike or Under Armour—the concept is that there are rewards, such as avoiding rehospitalizations.

How can healthcare organizations better prepare their infrastructures now to implement blockchain in the future?

Yetter: I think the blockchain [implementation] would be more of an add-on, especially in the near term. And I think you will see some of the major vendors out there, be it EHR or adjudication systems, start to consider and build in aspects of blockchain into their own platforms. So there will be a broader enablement that will naturally flow into the infrastructure as it moves forward. But in the near term, there is a good opportunity to add blockchain capabilities to what they already have, and then leverage it for specific cases of pilots or at-scale activities.

Ghosh: The big thing to recognize is that the way enterprise blockchain is evolving, from an infrastructure perspective, it is becoming augmentative rather than disruptive. So you can take an EHR and then you can augment the whole EHR workflow, from encounter to discharge, on the blockchain, [while maintaining] what the traditional EHR looks like. You don’t have to transmit all the data, like you would do in a data warehouse, into another ecosystem. You can leave it as source and hash parts of it on the blockchain as you build the blocks along the workflow. The enterprise blockchain vendors are making this easy to adopt.

There has been plenty of back-and-forth about just how much security blockchain can provide. What are your thoughts on this?

Ghosh: Anytime you encrypt data, it can always be decrypted. A blockchain is nothing but a distributed database at the end of the day. If you have access to that database that doesn’t have a consensus mechanism attached to it, then it is a little insecure. Looking at the T.J. Maxx breach a few years ago, people were swiping their credit cards and the transmission from the point of fail system to the storage system was being intercepted; that was the hack. In the same way, from the time that the traditional system would write to the blockchain, you can intercept that data, and that’s when the insecurity could come into play. And those standards are still evolving. There is no vendor out there that can not only encrypt the transmission protocols between source and blockchain, but also ensure that the blockchain itself is secure.  

What predictions could you offer for blockchain’s continued evolution in healthcare?

Yetter: In 12 to 24 months, you will see a lot of fast-moving activity, and with the changing nature of conversations and the work being done now, there is a clear signal that we are at a bit of an inflection point. But I think we will accelerate the meaningful work in this space and bring the technology in. Going back to the idea of acceptance and use of emerging technologies in other sectors first, we are seeing blockchain in place in financial institutions in meaningful ways. So in the next year or two, I think we will see the same thing in healthcare, whether it’s aspects around provider data, or getting into exposing things to the patient or member so they have greater control. We’ll see a lot of energy and investment in that space.

Ghosh: I think that beyond the pilots that you see today, the voice of the customer will be increasingly automated with enterprise blockchain. Within healthcare, the issue is, how do you provide greater autonomy, depending on who has the data and where? It’s not one or two companies that are trying to do something; it’s five or 10 that want to get together before someone else beats them to it.

 

 


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Survey: Healthcare Orgs Ramping up Investment in AI, Confident about ROI

November 16, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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The majority of health care executives (91 percent) are confident they will see a return on investment (ROI) on artificial intelligence investments, although not immediately, and foresee the greatest impact of AI will be on improving health care, according to an OptumIQ survey.

Most (94 percent) health care leaders responded that their organizations continue to invest in and make progress in implementing AI, with 75 percent of healthcare organizations say they are implementing AI or have plans to execute an AI strategy, based on OptumIQ’s survey of 500 senior U.S. healthcare industry executives, primarily from hospitals clinics and health systems, life sciences organizations, health plans and employers. OptumIQ is the intelligence arm of data and analytics of Optum, an information and technology-enabled health services business that is part of UnitedHealth Group.

While many healthcare organizations have plans, progress is mixed across sectors. Of the 75 percent who are implementing AI or have plans to execute an AI strategy, 42 percent of those organizations have a strategy but have not yet implemented it. Employers are furthest along, with 22 percent reporting their AI implementations are at a late stage, with nearly full deployment.

The average AI implementation is estimated to cost $32.4 million over five years. The majority of respondents (65 percent) do not expect to see a ROI before four years with the average expected period being five years. However, employers (38 percent) and health plans (20 percent) expect ROI sooner, in three years or less, according to the survey.

The survey found that health care leaders universally agree the greatest impact of AI investment will be on improving health care. Thirty-six percent expect AI will improve the patient experience; 33 percent anticipate AI will decrease per-capita cost of care; and 31 percent believe AI will improve health outcomes.

Most health care leaders believe AI can make care more affordable and accessible. Ninety-four percent of respondents agree that AI technology is the most reliable path toward equitable, accessible and affordable health care.

AI will make care more precise and faster, according to respondents. The top two benefits respondents expect to see from incorporating AI into their organizations are more accurate diagnosis and increased efficiency.

The survey found that respondents are looking to AI to solve immediate data challenges – from routine tasks to truly understanding consumers’ health needs. Of those health organizations that are already investing in and implementing AI: 

  • 43 percent are automating business processes, such as administrative operations or customer service;
  • 36 percent are using AI to detect patterns in health care fraud, waste and abuse; and
  • 31 percent are using AI to monitor users with Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as a wearable technology

With more organizations seeing the benefit of adopting an AI strategy, 92 percent agree that hiring candidates who have experience working with AI technology is a priority for their organization. To meet this need, nearly half (45 percent) of health care leaders estimate that more than 30 percent of new hires will be in positions requiring engagement with or implementation of AI in the next 12 months. However, health organizations seeking to hire experienced staff will likely face talent shortages.

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform health care by helping predict disease and putting the right insights into the hands of clinicians as they treat patients, which can reduce the total cost of care,” Eric Murphy, CEO of OptumInsight, said.

“Analytics isn't the end, it's the beginning – it's what you do with the insights to drive care improvement and reduce administrative waste,” Steve Griffiths, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Optum Enterprise Analytics, said. “For AI to successfully solve health care’s biggest challenges, organizations need to employ a unique combination of curated data, analytics and health care expertise... We are already seeing a race for AI talent in the industry that will grow as adoption continues to increase.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Breaking: The 2019 Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards Program is Open

November 15, 2018
by the Editors of Healthcare Informatics
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Providers and vendors can now submit their entries to the Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards Program

The 2019 Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards Program is now open for submissions. As always, it’s a great privilege and pleasure for us to sponsor this program.

And as many readers know, the concept of team-base recognition, which began with the 2009 edition of the program, has encompassed numerous sets of multiple winning teams that our publication has recognized for their achievements across a very broad range of areas.

As it always does, the Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards Program recognizes leadership teams from patient care organizations—hospitals, physician groups, clinics, integrated health systems, payers, HIEs, ACOs, and other healthcare organizations—that have effectively deployed information technology in order to improve clinical, administrative, financial, or organizational performance.

The Innovators Program, as it has in the last few years, also recognizes vendor solution providers who are asked to describe their core products or services in five categories. We are asking vendors to submit their innovation in one of five critical health IT areas: Data Security; Value-Based Care; Revenue Cycle Management; Data Analytics; and Patient Engagement.

Indeed, again this year, the Innovator Awards program will again include two tracks for innovation recognition—one for healthcare provider organizations and one for technology solution providers.

The submission form link for both tracks is right here. The deadline for submissions is January 4, 2019.

What’s more, the winning teams will be featured in an upcoming issue of Healthcare Informatics, and winning vendor teams will be awarded free digital distribution of whitepapers to all HIT Summit Series attendees.

At Healthcare Informatics, we are honored to be able to showcase these kinds of case studies from both providers and vendors, which we believe embodies the spirit of innovation around adaptive change that will light the way for their colleagues from across the industry.

At a time of extraordinary change in healthcare, now is as great a time as ever to showcase your innovations. Please consider submitting an entry to our program, and good luck in your entry!

--The Editors of Healthcare Informatics

 


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New Blockchain Project Sets to Tackle Provider Credentialing

November 12, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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A group of five healthcare enterprises—National Government Services, Spectrum Health, WellCare Health Plans, Inc., Accenture, and The Hardenbergh Group—are linking up to participate in a distributed ledger program aimed at resolving administrative inefficiencies related to professional credentialing.

The project, Professional Credentials Exchange, is being developed by ProCredEx and Hashed Health, a blockchain innovation consortium. The exchange leverages “advanced data science, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technologies to greatly simplify the acquisition and verification of information related to professional credentialing and identity,” according to officials.

In an announcement, officials noted that credentialing healthcare professionals “is a universally problematic process for any industry member that delivers or pays for patient care.  The process often requires four to six months to complete and directly impedes the ability for a healthcare professional to deliver care and be reimbursed for their work.”

They added, “Hospitals alone forfeit an average of $7,500 in daily net revenues waiting for credentialing and payer enrollment processes to complete.  Further, nearly every organization required to perform this work does so independently—creating a significant administrative burden for practitioners.”

As such, the groups, via the exchange, will aim to address the time, cost, and complexity associated with these processes by facilitating the secure, trusted exchange of verified credentials information between exchange members.

Included in the collaboration are WellCare Health Plans, which serves about 5.5 million members, and Spectrum Health, a 12-hospital health system in western Michigan. National Government Services is a Medicare contractor for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and processes more than 230 million Medicare claims annually.

"A fundamental component of developing the exchange lays in building a network of members that bring significant verified credential datasets to the marketplace," Anthony Begando, ProCredEx's co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.  "These are the leading participants in a growing group of collaborators who bring data and implementation capabilities to accelerate the deployment and scaling of the exchange."

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