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Aetna, Ascension Sign On To Healthcare Blockchain Alliance

Aetna, a health insurance subsidiary of CVS Health, and Ascension, a St. Louis-based nonprofit health system, have agreed to join a healthcare blockchain alliance formed to apply blockchain to maintaining provider directories.

healthcare blockchain

Source: Thinkstock

By Fred Donovan

- Aetna, a health insurance subsidiary of CVS Health, and Ascension, a St. Louis-based nonprofit health system, have agreed to join the Synaptic Health Alliance, a healthcare blockchain group formed to apply blockchain technology to maintaining provider directories.

Other alliance members include Humana, MultiPlan, Optum, Quest Diagnostics, and UnitedHealthcare.

Synaptic’s first pilot project, launched in April, is looking at how sharing data across healthcare organizations using blockchain technology can improve data accuracy, streamline administration, reduce costs, and improve access to care.

Maintaining up-to-date health plan provider directories is a challenging issue facing healthcare organizations, explained Synaptic in a press release.

Federal and state laws require that health plans maintain directories containing information about physicians and other healthcare providers. Industry estimates indicate that $2.1 billion is spent annually across the healthcare system acquiring and maintaining provider data, the release explained.

The Synaptic pilot project is exploring how blockchain technology can be used to actively share data with the aim of demonstrating potential administrative cost savings for health plans and healthcare providers, while improving care provider demographic data quality and consumers’ healthcare experience.

A recent study by CB Insights judged that healthcare blockchain could solve some of the biggest problems in healthcare, such as compliance, interoperability, and data security issues.

In the short term, healthcare blockchain could simplify back-office operations, improve organizations’ ability to track products in the supply chain, and strengthen information storage and verification.

In the medium term, healthcare blockchain could be used to improve claims management, payment, and prior authorization; health information exchange and research data; and research and trial design.

In the long term, healthcare blockchain could be employed to manage universal identities, patient health records, and application services.

Healthcare consortiums, such as Synaptic, have formed to take advantage of blockchain technology by using distributed ledger systems to share data among members.

Hashed Health has launched healthcare blockchain groups, including one involving GHX, Accenture, Martin Ventures, and Change Healthcare. That initiative is using blockchain protocols to verify if a healthcare provider is licensed for its services and location.

At the recent Distributed: Health conference held in Nashville, Change Healthcare Product Director Emily Vaughn noted: “What we're really trying to do is bring the first smart contract platform to healthcare. What we see is an opportunity to build development tools to allow for healthcare's engineers to quickly design and build blockchain applications.”

Hashed Health CEO John Bass added, “If you think about 2016, it was all about community building … 2017 was a lot of enterprise work, a lot of conversations with big insurance companies, big pharma companies … about how enterprises could get involved. Now, in 2018, we've seen this shift … The shift that I've noticed is that the conversations are much more mature, the audience is much more mature, the level of thought, the practicality … is much more advanced and much more mature than what we've seen in the past.”

Bill Frist, a heart and lung transplant surgeon and former US Senate majority leader, said at the conference that healthcare is “ripe for disruption like no other industry. The reason is, we have very, very, very high cost, which the typical consumer can’t afford, and we have uneven access.”

“When you have high cost and you have uneven access, the macro environment for disruption is huge. And that’s where blockchain is,” he said.

“Without access to current, real data that can be trusted, that is privacy protected, that is distributed … we can't make any real progress,” Frist added. “Blockchain has the opportunity … to address one of those basic needs of society, which is to make sure that our children have a better life, have better health, than we have,” he concluded.

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