Event Recap: Beyond the Hype - Real Applications of Blockchain for Health Care

On July 26, the Cambia Grove invited guests to hear from an executive panel of pioneers who have started to engage with blockchain technology to solve real health care challenges.

The panel:

  • Dr. Oxana Pickeral (Moderator) – Global Segment Lead, Health Care & Life Sciences, Amazon Web Services
  • Lisa Maki – Co-founder & Board Member, PokitDok
  • Chris Young – Vice President of Innovation, Ascension
  • Max Janasik – Vice President of Innovation, Cambia Health Solutions

A brief introduction to blockchain technology can be found in the event preview blog post.

FinTech has been an early-adopter of the emerging technology. However, health care experts have quickly recognized the potential of blockchain.

Panelists were excited about the ability of blockchain to address interoperability and support identity verification solutions in the health care space. Use cases include out of pocket cost calculators, smart contracts, e-commerce, supply chain, and search functions, among others. There was broad agreement from the panel that blockchain can be an important tool for improving and enhancing the consumer experience.

Blockchain 101

“Think [about blockchain] as a peer-to-peer distributed network that doesn’t have to push transactions through any central authority in order to get them done,” Maki explained.

 “It’s difficult for all of these [health care] stakeholders to interact with a patient at the center on their behalf and to exchange data efficiently. What you’re describing [in health care] is a distributed network.”

She went on to note, blockchain is really a distributed network with some very unique capabilities and mentioned features such as timestamping, cryptographic security and a shared ledger that maintains data across several locations that can be accessed synchronously.

Use Cases

“The most important thing that we’re going to care about is consumer-centricity,” said Young. He also said that because health care has so many stakeholders, blockchain is particularly promising in the move to value-based care. He later touted that blockchain can help align resources to focus on keeping people healthy using disparate data sets—across pockets of data from pharmacies, clinics, diagnostic labs, hospitals, and even wearables.

Maki went on to share that blockchain can be revolutionary for the industry because it maps to current business models—allowing all stakeholders to keep their customer and consumer data, and keep their business models, but still share what’s appropriate or meaningful.

She also mentioned that in theory, blockchain could enable activities like real-time underwriting. And that this could help companies develop consumer products more tailored to individual needs.

Currency and Financial Impact

During the panel discussion Maki discussed how cryptocurrency can provide incentives to process transactions across a network, noting, “It’s a nice way to create value.”

“I also agree that you should have cryptocurrency,” added Young. “There are all these pockets of inherent value that a consumer could control … and this may be a way to value those things.” Young went on to describe the potential impact on consumer decision-making if we can assign actual monetary rewards or incentives to that behavior.

“I don’t necessarily think you need a cryptocurrency in health care,” said Janasik. “I think you’re adding complexity on top of something people are already having trouble understanding. I would rather tackle practical use cases that impact everyday life.”

Generating Buy-in

Young also stated that there is a lot of education needed to get decision-makers within health care organizations on board, and ensuring they understood the inherent disruption to core business functions was critical. He added, “It’s important to really frame it in a business context so that people get it–and the possibilities it can bring to the industry.” Young went on to clarify, saying neither of those tasks are simple, even when you take the case to the highest-level stakeholders.

Additionally, Maki outlined a scenario in which a network facilitates transactions quickly at low cost, and with quick or instantaneous payment. She pointed out that this scenario could revolutionize health care by making the accounts receivable portion of the business model more reliable.  

Barriers and First Steps

Later in the discussion, Maki talked about public health care blockchain not being practical for privacy reasons, and that storing data in the chain would also be discouraged.

Janasik remarked that he sees health plans and payers engaged in accountable care relationships with providers that have a built-in level of trust and security as potential early adopters. However, Maki replied with the argument that while that’s a great use case, it seems more distant for her.

Adding contextual relevance is another key challenge, added Young.

When discussing how to get started with blockchain, Young said the first thing product developers should do is to clearly identify the problem they are solving for and to have a minimum viable product with a strong use case that can be sold quickly.

Maki added that health care’s service layer—and complex business transactions in particular—is ripe for new blockchain products that automate certain functions. For her, the need to be able to prove that an episode of care actually happened, and that all requirements of all stakeholders have been met in order to approve payments in a value-based care setting, is one place blockchain could add tremendous value.

Audience Q&A Highlights

On blockchain’s ability to impact health care finance:

  • Young and Janasik agreed that complex new financial products related to blockchain may emerge once the technology reaches broad adoption.

On the challenges of pooling consumer data:

  • Maki mentioned that several very large companies that have failed at pooling consumer data. “They fail because there’s a lack of consumer trust in tech companies pooling consumer data. They fail because … so much of that requires that the consumer actively thinks to update [their data] to a central location. … Nobody wants to do that.”

On making blockchain technology serve those in need:

  • “We are very focused on a lot of disparity populations,” said Young. “[Mobility has] democratized the ability to … get information.” He said opening up consumer ownership of health data and being able to link it can be critical to better serving vulnerable populations.
  • Janasik also mentioned that when you take money out of the administration part of health care, it frees up more resources for charity or free care.

To see the full video of the event, visit our YouTube channel.

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