Anthem Testing Blockchain Tech As Backbone Of Patient Health Data Access Controls

While there’s been a lot of talk about the use of blockchain technology in healthcare, there haven’t been as many concrete options deployed as one might think. However, efforts underway at health insurance giant Anthem seem likely to bear fruit.

According to an item in FierceHealthcare, the giant health insurer has big plans for blockchain, including technology which would allow patients easier and finer-grained control of who can access and share their personal health data.

As Anthem senior vice president and chief digital officer Rajeev Ronanki told FH, currently it’s difficult to track who has rights to what information. Meanwhile, creating a trusted information-sharing system putting the consumer at the center has been problematic.

To date, there have been few high-profile deployments of blockchain tech dedicated to helping patients manage their health data. In recent times, we’ve reported on efforts like the one at UC San Francisco, where researchers have created a blockchain-based model for sharing clinical trial data, and late this year, shared the story of how Intermountain Healthcare was leveraging a mix of blockchain technology and AI to find waste in its hospitals.

However, given its core capabilities and origin, it seems clear that blockchain could also be used to give patients more sophisticated tools for managing their data, a notion Anthem appears to have taken seriously.

Anthem’s current blockchain pilot provides users with an app for their phones which allows them to grant providers limited access to their health records. Consumers issue their permissions for providers by scanning a QR code.

The health insurer has been testing the system on a pilot group of roughly 200 company employees and starting this year, it plans to roll out this technology to its members in phases. It anticipates making the app available to its 40 million members over the next two to three years.

In addition to the above, Anthem is running blockchain pilots in a few other areas, including technology that will support coordination of benefits between different insurance companies. These kinds of unsexy but powerful applications deserve more attention than they’re getting.

Now the question is whether other health plans and providers make big blockchain announcements in the near future – or even test it out in the first place? Perhaps not. While many seem interested in blockchain’s potential, it’s looking like health leaders are moving slowly and carefully when considering their blockchain options.

All told, while it wouldn’t be quite fair to say that blockchain was a solution looking for a problem, as it seems poised to address very real concerns about how patients will keep control of their health data.

However, there are also forces that could whip the rug out from under those focused on keeping patient data private, notably big tech companies like Amazon working to create massive health information databases.  If they manage to capture enough Americans’ health data, tools giving patients control of their data might turn out to be moot.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.