What healthcare can expect from blockchain in 2019 — 3 key insights

Three health IT experts share insights on blockchain's role in healthcare and their predictions of how the technology will continue to develop in 2019.

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

Stephanie Perez, associate director at enterprise blockchain software company R3 (New York City): Blockchain adoption in healthcare is eagerly playing catch up to other industries such as financial services and trade finance. While there are few solutions in production, viable use cases have been identified and an increasing number of stakeholders are taking a collaborative approach. Unlike before, there is now more education and technical expertise on the different blockchain platform alternatives, as well as lessons learned and best practices on the ideation and development processes.

We will see a number of incumbents work with large system integrators and advisories to bring these use case ideas to fruition. Additionally, there will be greater openness to collaborate with blockchain-focused independent software vendors who have already built IP and are ready for piloting. In regards to the types of use cases that will materialize, I believe it's those more B2B enterprise-focused use cases that will go into production first versus many of the patient-centric medical record solutions that received a lot of press hype in 2018.

Mari Greenberger, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society director of informatics: 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.

Leland Brewster, strategic investing director at healthcare advisory services firm Healthbox (Chicago): Blockchain technology has generated considerable buzz in the healthcare industry, and much of the emphasis to date has been on patient data — trying to help patients to better access, monetize, share and/or control it. Placing patients in control of their own data is an important goal that should be pursued.

The challenge, however, with these approaches is the information asymmetries. For example, the company buying a patient's genetic data in a blockchain-powered marketplace likely has far more insight into its value than the patient selling it, and these issues will become more apparent over time. I don't expect patient-centric blockchain-powered initiatives to disappear in 2019, but I do expect enterprise-focused initiatives to see greater traction.

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

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