The promise of blockchain technology couldn’t be greater than in the healthcare sector. A prime example is the groundbreaking deployment of blockchain technology by Intermountain Healthcare, a Utah-based, not-for-profit system of 22 hospitals. This medical group has more than 1,600 physicians and advanced practice clinicians at 180 clinics.
Intermountain is using blockchain-based technology coupled with artificial intelligence to identify waste in its massive healthcare system, creating better outcomes for patients, and significant savings all around.
According to Frank Ricotta, CEO of BurstIQ, the future of healthcare will be driven by data, and blockchain technology is the enabling foundational technology. He explains, “Blockchain is a trust overlay over the Internet that allows parties to transfer representations of value, like health data, safely and securely.” BurstIQ’s HIPAA compliant blockchain-based platform provides an efficient way for health care organizations to manage, store and analyze big data.
Ricotta explains that BurstIQ solved two fundamental challenges that had vexed the healthcare community: supporting large volumes of data and securing the underlying data. BurstIQ’s blockchain-based solution simultaneously enables both granular data ownership, data sovereignty, and privacy, as well as accessibility of data across a highly complex set of stakeholders: patients, health systems, insurers, government agencies, biopharma, digital health solution providers and medical researcher communities. And they do all of this securely and at scale.
But BurstIQ doesn’t work in a vacuum. Its partner Empiric Health utilizes machine learning, artificial intelligence and Natural Language Processing to produce data that easily identifies differences in care provided to patients. The technology analyzes the many facets of surgery and connects them to their corresponding outcomes. Armed with accurate data about the effectiveness of the medical care provided, doctors make better decisions about which future treatments to prescribe, with the result being improved outcomes for patients.
When Intermountain combined Empiric’s analytic solution with BurstIQ’s blockchain-based platform in the surgical area, they drove down the cost out of surgery, saving the hospital system tens of millions of dollars over a two-year period. And this is just for starters. Empiric’s analytics-enabled technology is now being introduced to new areas in the Intermountain system and across the country.
“We are encouraged by the progress our clients are making to reduce costs and improve patients’ outcomes. Every hospital can benefit from this technology. We look forward to working with innovators throughout the U.S. to make this a reality,” said Justin Schaper, Empiric Chief Technology Officer.
According to Ricotta, the BurstIQ platform makes access to healthcare data easier, and provides the engine for the many systems that run atop of the platform possible. BurstIQ enforces the security domains. They interface with the healthcare providers’ legacy systems and offer an HL7 interface — the international standard for the transfer of clinical and administrative data between software applications and healthcare providers — for the healthcare providers’ electronic medical records systems (EMR), and patient accounting systems.
BurstIQ is not the only blockchain provider in the healthcare space, but it appears to be the only blockchain-based solution that has been public about commercially deploying its blockchain-enabled solution in the healthcare sector in the U.S. There are a few other blockchain-based healthcare solution providers, including Guardtime and Oasis Labs. Hyperledger has a health track. IBM is also in the sector building a blockchain-based healthcare ecosystem. Patientory is an app for the storage and secure transfer of healthcare information between patients and healthcare providers.
Guardtime’s approach is different from that of BurstIQ. Rather than putting healthcare records on a blockchain, the Guardtime technology takes a hash (think about it as a thumb print) of medical records, and records the hash to the Guardtime blockchain. This is what they are doing in the country of Estonia where all of the medical records are digital. In fact, Guardtime hashes every medical record from every health care provider and facility in Estonia every second. Recording the hashes to a blockchain enables easy detection if medical data has been tampered with. Like BurstIQ, Guardtime is creating applications that aggregate and analyze data from disparate sources and enable parties to share medical data securely and only between those parties that have permissioned access.
Ain Aaviksoo, the Chief Medical Officer and General Manager for Guardtime in Estonia, explains that because the medical data is hashed, Estonians trust that medical data is not being misused. According to Aaviksoo, the innovation in the healthcare space starts from the same premise which is that there is a single version of truth about medical data, namely, how and when it was created and by whom. The hash function ensures that the single version of truth is captured at the time it is created. Aaviksoo further explains that you can prevent unauthorized use of medical information by creating rules that safeguard medical information. Aaviksoo suggests that the workflows can be managed by smart contracts, but they can also be solved with less complex technologies. According to Aaviksoo, what is most important is that you create trusted workflows.
We are still at the very early stages of blockchain deployment in the healthcare field. But it is heartening to see that large healthcare institutions are collaborating with blockchain innovators to deliver the triad of benefits: better outcomes, better engagement between doctors and patients and cost savings. We can only hope that these results are shared far and wide and that the medical systems in the U.S. take notice. They should start to explore how to leverage the groundbreaking work being done in Utah and Estonia for the benefit of doctors and patients.
Both Frank Ricotta and Ain Aaviksoo will be on hand to discuss their blockchain-enabled solutions at an upcoming blockchain-based conference for the healthcare sector. There are many reasons why blockchain-based solutions can get sidelined. But these two individuals have succeeded in making real progress. This is worth a spotlight!
When asked about how to get medical professionals interested in blockchain-based solutions, Ricotta stated, “we try to hide all of the blockchain stuff. We make it less scary and focus on solving their problems.”