'Blockchain alliance' looks to test technology on provider directories

Blockchain has been touted—to the point of being called overhyped—as the technological breakthrough healthcare organizations need to more easily secure and store patient data. Five companies are now launching a pilot program to see if blockchain can live up to its promises by applying the technology to the common problem of inaccurate provider directories.

The companies involved in this “blockchain alliance” include health insurers UnitedHealthcare and Humana, UnitedHealthGroup’s Optum division, clinical lab company Quest Diagnostics and cost management solutions company MultiPlan.

In a joint press release, the companies said they’ll test how blockchain’s decentralized, tamperproof ledger of data could help ensure information in health plan provider directories stays up to date. Inaccurately listing providers as in-network or willing to accept new patients has been a consistent issue for health plans, with CMS reporting some individual directories for Medicare Advantage plans had error rates as high as 87 percent when it came to listing provider locations in 2016.

“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 companies said. “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.”

The savings could be substantial, the companies said, estimating the industry wastes $2.1 billion per year chasing down and reconciling provider data.

“Health is hard, but great breakthroughs may come from industry players collaborating around emerging, innovative technologies to make life easier for doctors and patients,” said Busy Burr, Humana’s head of healthcare innovation. “At Humana, we’re focused on helping our members achieve their best health by making it easy for them to do so, and we think industry leaders can work together to eliminate technology barriers in the health care system and promote better health outcomes.”

Blockchain has been touted as the solution to many of healthcare’s data woes and could even “revolutionize” quality reporting. The hype, however, seems to have outpaced providers’ acceptance or even basic understanding of the technology. A February survey from SERMO asked if blockchain technology was ready to enter the healthcare world. Of the 3,700 respondents, 47 percent said they weren’t aware of blockchain.