Across the healthcare spectrum, there is a great deal of uncertainty and unfamiliarity when it comes to how blockchain technology could be applied. While most would agree that the industry can benefit from leveraging blockchain in various ways, one recent report points to how it’s potential in precision medicine is gaining traction.
The report, from New York City-based consultancy Frost & Sullivan, examines the global healthcare crisis, looking closely at chronic disease, aging populations, and rising costs, while exploring the challenges inherent in precision medicine—including the big data conundrum, interoperability, cybersecurity, value-based care reimbursement, data ownership, and healthcare consumerism. As such, the researchers believe that blockchain technology can be the solution to many of those issues and is the missing piece in healthcare digital transformation.
Greg Caressi, senior vice president, transformational health at Frost & Sullivan, recently spoke with Healthcare Informatics about the report’s key takeaways, the role that blockchain could have in precision medicine, and other use cases for blockchain in healthcare. Below are excerpts of that interview.
What was your motivation for exploring the role that blockchain could have in precision medicine and elsewhere in healthcare?
We are an analyst consulting firm, so we’re always looking at new technologies as they are being brought to market, and at companies doing interesting things in this space. And part of our job is to look at what real opportunities there are within those technologies to apply them in real-world use cases, to figure out what the monetary value of those applications are, and to separate hype from reality.
So we did a study on blockchain about a year ago where we spoke to a wide number of companies. It is a technology in its infancy and it has been applied in certain use cases in other industries, and there were some in healthcare already underway at the time. So we talked to vendors, users, other industry experts and blockchain experts, and put together our research as what we saw as the top use cases and the most interesting companies in this space.
What has your research revealed thus far?
For providers, it hasn’t been really taken up in healthcare. The pharma industry is certainly doing things, and you have seen the recent payer announcements around blockchain utilization for processing claims. It fits well there. Providers are exploring this, and it was about a year ago when I was speaking to a group of hospital CIOs, and some of them didn’t know what blockchain was or hadn’t even thought about applications in their settings.
So early adoption applications are in the provider world will be a little bit more down the line, and right now it’s more around transactional exchanges of information, such as claims adjudication and drug supply chains, other than in Estonia, where a national medical record concept is being tried. But that isn’t mature in the U.S. market and it would be unlikely to get adopted here. When you [think about] moving into the 2019 to 2021 time period, you can start looking at IoMT (Internet of Medical Things), medical device information, and clinical trials, which do involve providers who will be participating in that, though they won’t be the originators.
Some folks have tried putting together exchanges that would involve providers making service lines available when they aren’t fully booked, sort of like Priceline for healthcare services. You have entities that are able to give access to that exchange for their employees or members to get access to services, but that is probably more in the post-2020 range.
You mentioned the top use cases for blockchain in healthcare that you researched. Can you explain those in more detail?
We identified what we thought were the five biggest use cases in terms of just dollars: the biggest one was for drug supply chain, so the ability to remotely audit the drug supply chain. That is the biggest opportunity where pharma can have the ability to trace back in their supply chain down to the API level, and see when there is an issue with a product that does demand an audit and/or recall. They can be precise in terms of where that manufactured lot comes from.
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