The driving force of blockchain's value? HIMSS Director of Informatics Mari Greenberger says connectivity

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Director of Informatics Mari Greenberger discusses blockchain technology in healthcare and how the HIMSS Blockchain in Healthcare Task Force she launched last year is prepared to further develop use of the technology in 2019.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Where is blockchain in healthcare now and how will it develop in 2019?

Mari Greenberger: While today's healthcare practitioners are aware of blockchain, they're still looking for guidance when it comes to navigating the ecosystem and using the technology in a way to reap the benefits. In response to the numerous vendors, solutions and ideas in the market that make it difficult to envision what blockchain actually means for health, HIMSS created a Blockchain in Healthcare Task Force composed of payers, providers, vendors and other interested parties. In 2018, this group came together and concluded that 'blockchain remains an emerging technology both fraught with unanticipated challenges and the promise of unrealized potential in healthcare.'

Moving forward in 2019, the Task Force will continue to define the role of blockchain and distributed ledger technology within the health information and technology ecosystem, as well as evaluate its clinical, business, technical and financial implications both in the U.S. and around the globe. We will also begin to hold 'Lighting Rounds' during Task Force meetings, featuring companies that leverage blockchain technology as a key tenant of their product, to highlight active blockchain initiatives that address real healthcare problems and use cases.

Q: What do you think will be the most significant blockchain applications in healthcare over the next five years?

MG: I believe the most important application of blockchain will center around how this technology can enable new business relationships and foster new kinds of consortia. Blockchain technology will ultimately force a paradigm shift in how we think about the way healthcare stakeholders build business relationships across the healthcare continua. This technology has the potential to help break down longstanding barriers, or data silos, to bring different health stakeholders together in a way that was not previously thought possible. For example, the two use cases that seem to have made significant headway are around provider directories and credentialing. The Synaptic Alliance has leveraged blockchain technology to reduce costs and administrative burdens associated with the maintenance of keeping accurate provider directory data. The Alliance includes, Optum, Humana, Ascension, Aetna, MultiPlan, UnitedHealthcare and Quest Diagnostics.

In the provider credentialing use case, The Professionals Credentials Exchange, ProCredEx, was created to use blockchain technology to simplify the administrative burden of healthcare professional credentialing. This exchange includes National Government Services, Spectrum Health, WellCare Health Plans, Accenture and The Hardenbergh Group. It is my hope and belief that blockchain technology can help facilitate the long-needed trust and transparency that the healthcare industry desires to ensure information is available to be used where and when it is needed the most.

Q: What do health IT leaders at hospitals and health systems need to know about blockchain today?

MG: Blockchain technology cannot be used in isolation. Whether it is a technical network consisting of data, or a network of individuals or consortia — connectivity is always the driving force of value.
Therefore, health information exchange organizations should be paying attention to this kind of technology, specifically because they have already built strong networks and consortia within their communities and they are trusted by their participants. This technology could augment services that HIOs are currently offering to their members and continue to demonstrate their value to the broader healthcare ecosystem.

There's a terrific opportunity allowing us to move the needle on interoperable health information exchange, and this kind of technology could provide a strong business case for stakeholders who may not be considering it.

To participate in future Becker's Q&As, contact Jackie Drees at jdrees@beckershealthcare.com.

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