A group of companies has come together to build a new blockchain-based network for the healthcare industry. Participants include Aetna, Anthem, Health Care Service Corporation, PNC Bank and IBM. It’s hard to tell what will come of the agreement, as the group’s plans seem to be largely at the talking stage, but it’s still an interesting development.
In its news release, the coalition said its goal is to create a blockchain-based ecosystem making it easier for healthcare companies to build, share and apply shared solutions. By using the new network, the participants hope to improve the interoperability of data between them and make data sharing more transparent.
The new blockchain network could eventually be a big deal.
After all, the proposed ecosystem would embrace a huge number of health plan beneficiaries. Aetna serves 39 million people, Anthem 73 million and Health Care Service Corporation more than 15 million, a total which would probably make this one of the largest operating healthcare-related blockchain networks.
This isn’t to say that the current project is completely unique. For example, Change Healthcare launched its own high-volume blockchain network allowing organizations to track claims submissions across the claims lifecycle a year ago. But bringing multiple partners together to create the network is a new approach.
And of course, the new network has the imprimatur of no less than Big Blue. “Blockchain’s unique attributes make it suitable for large networks of members to quickly exchange sensitive data in a permissioned, controlled and transparent way,” said Lori Steele, general manager for Healthcare and Life Sciences for IBM, in a prepared statement touting the agreement.
At the moment the coalition is more talk than action. The initial group of companies says only that they’re “actively working to further define the initial use cases for the health utility network,” which is another way of saying that they don’t have much skin in the game just yet.
But at least looking in from the outside, the idea of building this health utility network sounds like a move in the right direction. I don’t know if it will be able to accomplish everything the various partners quoted in the press release are promising, from reducing fragmentation of information to driving efficiency to giving customers control of their data, but the overall notion of creating a shared infrastructure makes sense.
Actually, this approach makes so much sense that if it doesn’t work I’ll have to wonder whether all of the assertions about blockchain’s capabilities for healthcare sharing have been overplayed. Bear in mind that the individual companies involved are betting on what everyone sees as it must-have technology in healthcare. Yes, they could generate a big win, but if the new network doesn’t work out it will be hard to backtrack.