With Insurers Signaling Interest, Can Blockchain Disrupt Healthtech?
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you would have to be in a separate network for UnitedHealthcare” or other insurers outside of Aetna’s network, he says. For hospitals that accept multiple forms of insurance, that would mean having to reference different blockchain-based directories when determining which providers a patient’s health plan covers.
Watson is currently CEO of Akiri, a digital health startup based in Silicon Valley. His past career stops include serving as chief technology officer at Kaiser Permanente, a large private hospital and clinic network based in California.
Watson has also served on a working group within the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization that has looked at use cases for blockchain in healthcare. In a call with industry analysts last year, he discussed the pockets of healthcare IT where he could envision blockchain having a positive impact, as well as areas where he believes excitement around the technology is excessive.
When it comes to using blockchain to store and exchange patient data, one consideration for healthcare organizations, or those that sell to them, is processing power. The underlying concept of blockchain involves updating all nodes of a network controlling a ledger any time a change is made to the ledger. Healthcare organizations need to store and move large amounts of data between computers—think patient scans and images, for example. Using blockchain to store and transmit so many large files could prove difficult, Watson says.
“A small payload, like a charge authorization for Visa or MasterCard, or a bitcoin transaction where the bitcoin currency marker is … measured in bytes—those are easy and quick to move around a network and store,” he says. “But if you had a blockchain network that’s moving [electronic health record data], it could be gigabytes into the petabyte range. The ability to move that rapidly, and for all the endpoints to store that data, you can imagine the performance and capacity issues that will cause.”
However, Watson isn’t a complete naysayer when it comes to using blockchain in healthcare. He mentions security and identity management as an application for the technology that he doesn’t see as being “intuitively obvious,” but nonetheless interests him.
Watson also mentions two software companies—Gem Health and Change Healthcare, as members of a growing marketplace where businesses build and manage blockchain infrastructure on behalf of their customers.