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US Insurance Giants UnitedHealth and Humana Launch Blockchain Pilot

Two of the largest health insurance providers in the U.S. announced Monday that they would pursue a blockchain pilot aimed at improving the quality of healthcare data.

UnitedHealth Group and Humana – who are largely rivals in the health insurance industry- said that they would develop the pilot in cooperation with MultiPlan and Quest Diagnostics. UnitedHealth Group will participate through two of its subsidiaries, UnitedHealthcare and Optum.

According to a statement released by the companies involved:

“The pilot will examine how sharing data across health care organizations on blockchain technology can improve data accuracy, streamline administration and improve access to care. The pilot will also address the high cost of health care provider data management, testing the premise that administrative costs and data quality can be improved by sharing provider data inputs and changes made by different parties across a blockchain, potentially reducing operational costs while improving data quality.”

It’s not clear at this time whether the pilot would involve an existing platform or the development of a wholly new one. UnitedHealth and Humana did not immediately respond to requests for further information.

Still, the pilot is targeting a key pain point in the healthcare industry – data reconciliation – that according to one estimate costs as much as $2.1 billion in annual spending. And firms like UnitedHealth have eyed blockchain for potential applications in the past; last week, a group of insurers and reinsurers launched a new commercial venture that grew out of an existing consortium effort.

Health data and computer image via Shutterstock 

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HHS Architect Talks Blockchain's Potential Role in Healthcare Administration

One of the figures behind the blockchain R&D effort within the US Health and Human Services (HHS) Department recently spoke out on the tech’s potential in Medicare and other public-sector functions.

Speaking with Federal News Radio last week, Debbie Bucci, a lead IT architect for the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), discussed the department’s past call for academic papers, which saw more than 70 submissions from a range of sources. She remarked that many of the submissions focused in some way on healthcare administration

Among the possible applications she discussed is using the tech as a publicly viewable layer for U.S. citizens to follow the status of their payments within programs like Medicare or Medicaid.

“For Medicare, Medicaid, maybe the amount you’re paying for – I know that for some processes people go in every quarter and they check their payment status, and so it’s possible there could be a public ledger that authoritative sources may post to that everyone could collectively use as [a reference] for identifying information and possibly processing the calculations to get there,” she told the radio service.

Elsewhere in the interview, Bucci highlighted the technology’s possible benefits for record-keeping purposes, telling the Federal News:

“The general idea of a blockchain is an authoritative ledger, so certainly anything you want to keep records of – I think it kind of aligns with more of the business processes to assist with healthcare.”

Similarly, she indicated, blockchains can be used as a more efficient method of tracking payments made into and out of both systems, either by storing that information on a public ledger, or holding some information and allowing subscribers to calculate their specific costs and benefits more easily.

The department has not yet pursued any particular blockchain research project, she clarified. At the same time, HHS is staying engaged with the developer community, and Bucci described a recent hackathon at which the winning project focused on the use of blockchain for tracking clinical trial data.

Debbie Bucci image via the Chamber of Digital Commerce

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Survey: Most Medical Group Execs See Promising Role For Blockchain

A new survey of the health care industry has found that executives from hospitals, managed care organizations and other groups are moving to explore blockchain applications in their field.

Black Book Research queried 88 health care payers (or institutions that finance medical services) and 276 technology executives, managers and IT specialists from the field, according to the report, which was published on October 3.

Among the findings: 90 percent of managers and IT specialists from medical groups felt blockchain could help alleviate problems in the sector, including issues around recordkeeping, network connectivity and information privacy. The study also revealed that 76 percent of payers are either considering blockchain as a tech solution or are in the process of deploying systems that utilize it.

Still, the responses indicate that the industry isn’t moving all that quickly to embrace the technology.

For example, only a small percentage of payers – 14 percent, according to the data – “are involved in trial deployments in some form currently.”

Further, just 9 percent of providers that responded to the survey indicated that they expect their companies to pursue blockchain integrations by the second quarter of next year. By comparison, 70 percent of payers said their firms anticipate doing so by the first quarter of 2019.

The survey also suggests that the possible costs involved remain a barrier. Eighty-eight percent of providers said they would not commit to an integration deadline because of the “undetermined cost of blockchain solutions.”

Hospital image via Shutterstock

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