What's the deal with blockchain in healthcare: 5 takeaways

In recent years, there has been a flurry of excitement surrounding the use of blockchain technology to improve healthcare. Despite the buzz, most healthcare executives and providers aren't well versed in blockchain.

During a panel discussion at Becker's 4th Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle Conference, Sept. 22 in Chicago, two healthcare technology leaders offered an overview of blockchain technology, describing several opportunities for its use in healthcare.

The panelists included:

  • Paul Quigley, principal and CEO of BlocLab Enterprises
  • Aaron Symanski, chief technology officer of Change Healthcare

Here are five main points from the discussion:

Editor's Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

1. Blockchain is not a standalone technology. "Blockchain is an enabling technology, not a technology that stands on its own," said Mr. Quigley. It works by using smart contracts, which is a computer protocol intended to digitally facilitate or verify a contract. These contracts allow a credible transaction without a third party. The transactions are trackable and irreversible.

2. Straight forward blockchain doesn't encrypt data from others. "Encryption technology is used in blockchain, but the data stored on the blockchain is not encrypted," said Mr. Symanski. "So if you are thinking about it as a way to secure data from other people's view … Don't go down that road with straightforward blockchain."

3. Blockchain can be used to track an asset.  One major use for blockchain is tracking an asset, whether that is a claim, a payment or supplies through the healthcare network. "You can track that asset moving around through the network," Mr. Symanski said. For example, Change Healthcare leveraged blockchain technology to enable healthcare providers and payers to track the real time status of claims submission and remittance.

4. Blockchain's potential to protect data integrity. By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification because it sits on a decentralized ledger, meaning there is no centralized version of data for a hacker to corrupt, said Mr. Quigley.  As a result, this technology has the potential to protect data integrity.

5. Blockchain has the potential to be big in healthcare, but some articles out there still overinflate its value. "A lot of technology goes through this cycle. When it's first introduced, people think it will solve every problem that we've ever had. But then everyone sobers up and says 'well here are three to four things it does well, let's add it to the portfolio ... it's another utility… not the technology that will solve everything," Mr. Symanski said.

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