Five healthcare giants are diving into blockchain, looking into how to use the technology to improve data quality and lower administrative costs.
Humana, Multiplan, UnitedHealth Group's Optum, UnitedHealthcare and Quest Diagnostics are embarking on a pilot program to apply blockchain to healthcare provider demographic data.
By using the encrypted system of data exchange that relies on a distributed ledger, they aim to make this data both more accurate and administratively friendly.
"We see this as an opportunity to provide a national critical infrastructure so we can improve the quality of the data and make the whole system more efficient and reduce costs," said Lidia Fonseca, chief information officer of Quest Diagnostics.
Currently, organizations across the healthcare industry usually keep separate copies of provider data. Reconciling the data can take a lot of time and money—as much as $2.1 billion annually, according to the companies.
In this new pilot, launching Monday, the companies will study how to use blockchain to share data among healthcare organizations. They hope that using blockchain will make the data more accurate, make administration—including claims processing—more efficient and will increase access to care.
The companies will also look into how the blockchain can be used to share changes in data. That could cut operational costs, Fonseca said.
"We want an automated process," Fonseca said.
Blockchain is particularly well-suited to this kind of data reconciliation, said Michael Yetter, director of healthcare management consulting at KPMG. "It's very important that all the participants across the blockchain have a copy of the data and it's updated in real time," he said.
That means that any time any of the five companies makes a change to the data, the new information will be available almost instantaneously to all the other companies.
Blockchain is a popular buzzword both within and outside of healthcare. Some hope the technology will enable greater sharing of patient records, thereby driving interoperability. Others think it will make claims processing and payments more efficient. With Change Healthcare's blockchain network, for instance, hospitals, physicians, and payers can track claims status.