Is there genuine potential for blockchain to transform aspects of U.S. healthcare? That question is one of the most debated of any right now. Some proponents see great potential, but nearly all of those who have explored that potential see major cause for caution. All points of view were discussed on Tuesday afternoon at the Sheraton Downtown Philadelphia, during the Health IT Summit in Philadelphia, sponsored by Healthcare Informatics.
During a session entitled “Use Cases for Blockchain in Healthcare,” healthcare leaders coming from a variety of backgrounds and experience sets discussed the possibilities. Mark Stevens, managing partner at the Philadelphia consulting firm Enable Health, moderated the panel. He was joined by Sri Bharadwaj, director, information services, and CISO, UC Irvine (Calif.) Health; Anthony DiPrinzio, lead, consulting and development, for Blockchain at Berkeley, a student-led blockchain enterprise at the University of California-Berkeley; and John Cappiello, chief technology officer at the Philadelphia-based HealthVerity, a cloud-based data ecosystem vendor.
After a video created by the Waterloo, Ontario-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian think tank focused on international governance, was shown, explaining some of the fundamental concepts around blockchain, Stevens noted that, as he put it, “Canada is a hotbed for blockchain development. The largest Meetup group for blockchain globally is in Toronto,” he noted.
HealthVerity’s Cappiello noted that his company has been developing blockchain applications around patient consent issues. “We see blockchain as offering solutions for managing patient consent,” he said.
Then, DiPrinzio, a rising senior at UC-Berkeley, explained that “I help run Blockchain at Berkeley, which started out as a student cooperative, and now is a 501 (c )(3) organization. We have undergraduates, graduate students, postgraduates, and academic advisors involved,” he said. “We work with Fortune 500 companies to build blockchain proofs of concept. Exxon Mobile, Ford, Airbus, BMW, have been clients. We teach courses on campus, including a blockchain fundamentals course and a developers’ course.” As the Blockchain at Berkeley website notes, in terms of education, “We teach an open-source undergraduate cyptocurrency course, organize the largest crypto meetup in the East Bay and host tech talks, developer tutorials, workshops and more”; in terms of consultancy, “We work with companies to develop strategic approaches to implement blockchain technologies. We build Proof of Concepts, and translate new developments into use cases and novel approaches”; and in terms of research and development, “We build side projects and do research with cutting-edge blockchain and crypto technologies. Our projects have won first prizes at collegiate hackathons like TreeHacks and CalHacks. All of our work is open-source.”
DiPrinzio added that, “Here, I’m also working, with the University of Delaware and the University of Pennsylvania, on a global blockchain initiative. A lot of innovation is coming out of universities. Starting a separate initiative, we already have 50-plus schools. Eventually we hope to bring in companies that actually work on projects.”
UC Irvine Health’s Bharadwaj, who is responsible for “information security and application security areas” at his organization, and who has “spent quite a bit of time with national HIMSS [the Chicago-based Health Information and Management Systems Society] in the privacy and security area,” has been involved in an initiative with the International Olympic Committee around creating data availability for the Olympic athletes, their families, and coaches during the Olympic Games. He agreed that data availability is very important, though he added that “I don’t think IOC is thinking about blockchain.” But, he said, with regard to enhancing data availability to improve care delivery, “It’s our responsibility to figure out how to make this work,” as healthcare IT leaders. Asked about blockchain specifically, he pronounced himself “optimistically skeptical.”
Asked his perspective on the forward evolution of the blockchain concept, HealthVerity’s Cappiello said, “I’m skeptically optimistic. So, for context, we have a blockchain network in production with a large pharmaceutical manufacturer. And a short list of peers in the space interested in participating. Practically speaking, there are a lot of challenges,” he added. “There are a lot of wonderful things you can do with blockchain, but we didn’t do an ICO to raise money; we raised it in the traditional way,” he said, referring to an “initial coin offering,” which Investopedia defines as “an unregulated means by which funds are raised for a new cryptocurrency venture. An Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is used by startups to bypass the rigorous and regulated capital-raising process required by venture capitalists or banks. In an ICO campaign, a percentage of the cryptocurrency is sold to early backers of the project in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies, but usually for Bitcoin.”
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