Blockchain pilots expected to show results in specific use cases

Several pilot projects using blockchain technology in healthcare are expected to wrap up in 2019, expected to show demonstrable results in commonsense use cases.

Those demonstration projects could prove the value of the technology to the healthcare industry is solving vexing information coordination problems, such as ascertaining the accuracy of data in provider directories and facilitating provider credentialing, says David Houlding, principal healthcare lead for Microsoft.

Speaking at a blockchain symposium Monday at the annual conference of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society in Orlando, Houlding said he believes that momentum for use of the technology will grow as pilot projects show actual results and more healthcare industry participants want to realize those benefits.

The pilot projects now underway “are being done by consortiums of recognizable respected healthcare organizations,” he said. “They are centered on healthcare use cases that provide real business value.”

David Houlding

In the past year, more realistic expectations have emerged for blockchain technology, shedding light on some of the hyperbole that had surrounded it, Houlding says. For example, blockchain will not serve as a panacea for all security concerns in healthcare, having certain strengths and weaknesses. It will not replace enterprise systems, but will need to co-exist with enterprise systems that providers already have in place. And there won’t be one large public blockchain, but rather, the majority of initiatives will be private or consortium blockchains.

Houlding foresees an evolution in how healthcare will progressively use the technology. “Right now, there are different blockchain islands, and the question is how will they grow? In some sense, it will make sense for them to be connected. We’re advising organizations that want to use a blockchain to isolate it architecturally behind an API that you can control. At some point, then, in the future, you can swap out blockchains, and it won’t be as challenging.”

Provider HIT executives also need to manage the cultural change that using blockchain represents, he says. “There’s a mindset of gathering as much data as we can and then hoarding it; the problem with that approach is it misses an opportunity—there’s a lot of data that should be naturally shared. The fact is we’re maintaining it all over the place, and some places aren’t maintaining it properly. When the data gets inconsistent, it causes a lot of friction in the healthcare system.”

Other use cases are being considered, says Heather Flannery, health circle gobal lead for Consensys. For example, blockchain technology could help coordinate information sharing between entities participating in organ transplant networks.

Test cases also are emerging in other countries, primarily Europe and China, says Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger/Linux Foundation. He also mentioned that Change Healthcare is conducting a pilot in the U.S. to test the applicability of blockchain within an insurance claims network.

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