Aetna, Cleveland Clinic, Healthcare Service Corp. and several other companies are backing a new venture aimed at using blockchain technology to make healthcare more efficient.
The move builds off growing interest by industry leaders in blockchain's potential to improve interoperability and transparency in care networks.
Aetna and HCSC paired with IBM and PNC Bank to create an "inclusive blockchain network" able to exchange healthcare information more efficiently in early 2019. Their new venture announced on Wednesday, called Avaneer Health, is a standalone utility network born from that initiative.
Avaneer Health is an "open and secure network" using blockchain to remove some of the burdens associated with transferring data between payers and providers. The partner companies hope Avaneer can use their overlapping customer bases to find solutions to unnecessary costs and inefficient payment processing—two areas challenging the healthcare industry.
The healthcare industry is experimenting with the technology to make tasks like transferring medical records and claims for physicians or patient reimbursements more efficient, according to Aaron Miri, chief information officer for University of Texas at Austin, Dell Medical School and UT Health Austin. For example, if a physician were to transfer to a health center in a different state, blockchain would allow his credentials to be sent quickly and securely to another system.
"The technology is trusted, which is great for HIPAA, immutable, which means it's very hard to get wrong — ideal for highly sensitive records on a person's identity — and cannot be reissued," Miri said. "Only the original author can change it, which makes it highly secure."
But this gets costly on an industry-wide scale, he said. Long blockchains require significant manpower, money and energy to use. It will take time to work out the kinks to adapt the technology to hospitals' needs.
"Think of it as millions of chains linked, no one knows what happens when you have an enormous blockchain," Miri said.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston started using blockchain technology for patient registration in 2016. They used Ethereum, a newer version of blockchain that requires users to break the chain, allowing less resources to be used but also providing less security for data holders.
Bobbie Carlton, a spokesperson for Avaneer Health, said in a written statement that the company hopes to save resources by focusing on certain functions of the technology like endpoint discoverability, a distributed ledger, and provenance and auditing. These do not employ mining, which consumes large amounts of energy to run "intensive calculations" able to match the system's private key.